Chevron Shareholders Slam CEO Mike Wirth Over $12B Ecuador Pollution Disaster at Annual Meeting
SAN RAMON, CA - Several Chevron shareholders and environmental activists pressed hard against Chevron CEO Mike Wirth today at the company’s annual meeting, with one accusing the company of “killing off Indigenous peoples” via neglect by failing to pay a $12 billion environmental judgment owed to rainforest communities in Ecuador’s Amazon. In another rebuke to Wirth, two shareholder resolutions stemming from the Ecuador litigation received substantial support.
Pressed by five different shareholders over the Ecuador disaster at the meeting, Wirth refused to take responsibility for the fact his company was found by three layers of courts in Ecuador to have dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste onto Indigenous ancestral lands, creating an outbreak of childhood leukemia and other cancers that has killed or sickened thousands of people. Wirth instead blamed his company’s woes on “American trial lawyers who are misleading” the public.
“Wirth’s performance today was pathetic on a number of levels and is further evidence of a Chevron misinformation campaign designed to mislead shareholders and distract attention from the company’s $12 billion liability in Ecuador,” said Patricio Salazar, the lead Ecuadorian lawyer for the affected Indigenous peoples and farmer communities who won the judgment in 2013. Despite insisting the trial take place in Ecuador, Chevron has refused to pay the judgment and has threatened the Indigenous peoples with a “lifetime of litigation” unless they drop the case.
In the meantime, two shareholder resolutions stemming from the Ecuador liability received huge support despite being actively opposed by management. One resolution, calling for special shareholder meetings, received 34% support compared to 31% last year; another calling for the appointment of a Board member with environmental expertise received 26% support, compared to 20% for the same resolution last year. Any shareholder resolution that receives more than 10% support is considered a success given that management controls the majority of voting shares, say observers.
Simon Billeness of CSR Strategy Group, who works with Chevron shareholders, called the results a “significant setback” for company management. He also pointed out that an on-line petition started by the activist group Avaaz that supports the Ecuadorians already had attracted close to 900,000 signatures, another blow to the company. In all, 36 institutional Chevron shareholders representing $109b in assets under management called on Wirth to explore options to settle the Ecuador case as a way to minimize future shareholder risk.
And, a recent video message from Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters called on the new CEO to provide “justice for the indigenous people of Ecuador.”
“One thing that is clear from this meeting is that the global movement to hold Chevron accountable for the massive harm it caused in Ecuador is gathering major strength among shareholders and citizen activists,” said Billenness. “Chevron is known more and more as a corrupt company that fabricates evidence and disrespects Indigenous groups to evade paying environmental liabilities. That’s a terrible reputation for an oil company to have as it seeks reserves around the world; it certainly puts Chevron at a competitive disadvantage and poses major financial risks for company shareholders.”
Paul Paz y Miño, Associate Director of the environmental group Amazon Watch, said: “Wirth seemed content to parrot the lies of his predecessor and refused to acknowledge Chevron’s responsibility for the Ecuador disaster – a fact which the company has already admitted in court. Instead, in the face of repeated pressure from shareholders to remediate the environmental disaster and provide health care for the many thousands of people who are suffering, Wirth crassly blamed lawyers for the Ecuadorians. The reference by Wirth to Chevron’s discredited RICO decision not only failed to address legitimate shareholder concerns, but demonstrates how Chevron’s strategy of endless litigation has dehumanized company management to the people it poisoned in the Amazon.”
Carmen Cartuche, the President of the Coalition for the Defense of the Amazon (FDA), the group that brought the lawsuit, said, “We are thrilled to receive the support of shareholders in pointing out that Wirth is not only morally wrong by attacking indigenous groups in Ecuador, but that he is actively misleading the financial markets regarding the growing risk faced by the company from our litigation. We are more determined than ever to carry this campaign forward to do a comprehensive clean-up of our ancestral lands. We will not stop until the full amount of the judgment is collected.”
Chevron’s Ecuador liability stems from findings by three layers of courts in the country that the oil giant deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest, decimating indigenous groups and causing an outbreak of cancer that has killed or threatens to kill thousands of innocent civilians. Chevron operated in Ecuador under the Texaco brand from 1964 to 1992.
The high level of shareholder support for the resolutions calling into question Wirth’s mismanagement of the case is not the CEO’s only problem with the Ecuador liability.
Wirth, who makes roughly $30 million annually in compensation, also must contend with the fact that Chevron faces an impending trial in Toronto over an effort by the Ecuadorian communities to seize company assets to pay for the entirety of the judgment, which is growing by an estimated $300 million annually due to statutory interest. Chevron owns critically important oil fields, refineries, and other assets in Canada.
The Chevron annual meeting “was a resounding victory for the rainforest communities of Ecuador who are on a historic path to hold Chevron accountable for its toxic dumping and fraudulent cover-up in Ecuador,” said Billenness, who works as a liaison between the affected Ecuadorian communities and institutional shareholders.
Salazar, the lawyer for the Ecuadorians, said, “I think that the current management has the same old approach to the case. They failed to give truthful and complete information to their shareholders about the $12 billion liability. Chevron continues to act as a bully towards some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Nevertheless, the affected communities in Ecuador will continue fighting until justice prevails no matter how long it takes.”
(Here is a summary of the overwhelming evidence against Chevron as found by Ecuador’s courts. Here is a report on Chevron’s fraud during its bogus “racketeering” case in U.S. courts targeting lawyers for the Ecuadorians. Here is a summary of a criminal referral letter targeting Chevron and its lawyers sent to the U.S. Department of Justice.)
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