Chevron CEO Challenged to Change Course at Shareholder Meeting

Shareholders and environmental groups called on company to turn page on environmental destruction and rights abuses

Amazon Watch, Sierra Club

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San Ramon, CA – At Chevron's annual general meeting today, institutional shareholders and environmental and human rights organizations representing shareholders presented newly-appointed CEO Michael Wirth with arguments for why he should change course on the company's history of environmental and social irresponsibility. Nevertheless, Wirth made explicit at the meeting his choice to continue former CEO John Watson's legacy of denials and attacks on affected communities and the global climate.

Wirth takes the helm at Chevron from John Watson, whose legacy includes mishandling the company's environmental disaster and liability in Ecuador and dismissing climate-focused shareholder resolutions put forward by investors representing billions of dollars in Chevron stock, as well as aggressively pursuing fossil fuel extraction in the face of climate change largely caused by this industry.

Wirth claimed the company is doing enough on climate change, and he said that the "real tragedy" in the Ecuadorian Amazon is "American trial lawyers," rather than the communities suffering from the ongoing public health crisis caused by the oil company's deliberate dumping of 16 billion gallons of toxic drilling waste. Wirth also brushed aside concerns about the impacts of the oil purchased and processed by Chevron's refineries, claiming that the company bears no responsibility in the rights abuses and environmental damage caused by other companies doing the drilling.

This approach ignores input from a wide variety of shareholders who expressed themselves in the meeting, in letters sent before the meeting, and in resolutions put to a vote at the meeting, several of which sought to address Chevron's role in climate change. In a sharp rebuke of Chevron's management, two of these resolutions received exceptionally high levels of support: one, to produce a report on methane emissions (a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions), received about 45% of shareholder votes in favor, and another to expand the ability of shareholders to call special meetings to address issues like Chevron's toxic legacy in the Amazon received about 34% of votes in favor.

Chevron is also under increasing pressure to pledge not to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Earlier this month, a group of institutional investors totaling $2.52 trillion in assets sent a letter to major banks and oil and gas companies, including Chevron, urging them not to initiate any oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge. The letter cited economic and reputational risks, as well as threats to human rights and the environment. This call was echoed by a letter from the Gwich'in Steering Committee and signed by more than 100 environmental and Indigenous rights organizations, emphasizing the sacred nature of the Arctic Refuge and the widespread opposition to drilling there.

Similarly, last month 36 institutional shareholders, collectively representing over $109 billion in assets under management, sent Wirth a letter calling on him to rectify Chevron's toxic legacy in the Amazon. Reinforcing that call, close to a million Avaaz members wrote to one of Chevron's largest investors, Vanguard Group in the days preceding today's meeting to demand the company use its influence to get Chevron to clean up the Amazon. 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."

Shareholder representatives also highlighted the fact that despite the company's efforts to distance itself from Ecuador and other toxic projects around the world, its Richmond refinery remains one of the California's biggest polluters, and Chevron refineries across the United States are the largest purchasers and processors of crude oil imported from the Amazon rainforest. The extraction and processing of Amazon crude continues to destroy the climate-protecting rainforest and threaten the rights of Indigenous peoples from Ecuador to California.


Patricio Salazar, Lawyer, Amazon Defense Coalition (the affected communities of Chevron's toxic legacy in Ecuador), said:

"I think that the current management has the same old approach to the case and they failed to giving truthful and complete information to their shareholders because they continue to ignore their $12 billion liability. Chevron continues to act as a bully towards vulnerable peoples harmed by their operations. Nevertheless the people are willing and will continue fighting until justice prevails no matter how long it takes."

Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director, Gwich'in Steering Committee, said:

"Chevron executives and shareholders must reject drilling in the Arctic Refuge coastal plain. This place, the calving grounds of the porcupine caribou herd and the sacred place where life begins, cannot be destroyed. We will not allow our last untouched ecosystem to be stolen for greed. With courage, strength, and determination, we will defeat any attempt to drill in this sacred place. We have our ancestors standing with us, and although no one said this fight would be easy, we are survivors, we are strong, and we are warriors for the Arctic. The decisions that we make today will decide whether this sacred place will be preserved for future generations. Please stand with us by leaving it intact. Together we will defend the Arctic Refuge, the porcupine caribou herd, and the Gwich'in way of life."

Paul Paz y Miño, Associate Director, Amazon Watch, said:

"Wirth seemed content to parrot the lies of his predecessor and not only refused to acknowledge Chevron's responsibility for the Ecuador disaster - to which the company has already admitted in court - but in the face of repeated shareholder cries for a clean up and health care for the many thousands of people suffering a health crisis for decades, he crassly stated, ‘the true tragedy is American trial lawyers misleading the public.' The reference to Chevron's hollow RICO decision not only failed to address legitimate shareholder concerns but demonstrates how Chevron's strategy of years of endless litigation has completely dehumanized the people it poisoned in the Amazon."

Ortal Ullman, Climate and Energy Program Campaign Coordinator, Union of Concerned Scientists, said:

"Shareholders called for action and transparency on climate and Chevron has done the opposite. The company continues to fund groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Western States Petroleum Association - both of which spread misinformation and actively work to block sensible climate policies - to do its dirty work. If the company were serious about climate change, it would stop hiding behind deceptive trade groups."

Pat Doherty, Director of Corporate Governance, New York State Comptroller's Office, said:

"Mr. Wirth now has an opportunity to take a fresh look at the company's environmental policies and practices. We hope he will take up that challenge."

Stephanie Tsai, Climate Justice Program Associate, California Environmental Justice Alliance, said:

"It is no accident that the people who live closest to refineries like Chevron's in Richmond and who suffer the negative health impacts are disproportionately low-income and people of color. Our communities are most impacted by both the causes - harmful air pollution containing greenhouse gases - and the effects - including extreme heat, drought, sea level rise, and more intense weather - of climate change. At the same time, we have the least financial resources to defend ourselves and adapt. Chevron and other oil and gas companies have an outsized responsibility to take meaningful climate action and to truthfully communicate about their legal and financial liabilities."

Danielle Fugere, President, As You Sow, said:

"Chevron's reliance on increasingly outdated energy paradigms was striking. While people around the world need energy, there is no doubt that it needs to be clean energy. Chevron appears to have little inclination to lead in clean energy, which is disappointing."

Lena Moffitt, Senior Director of the Sierra Club's Our Wild America Campaign, said:

"Companies like Chevron are at a crossroads. They can side with a growing number of investors, tribes, environmental advocates, and climate justice groups by pledging to stay out of the Arctic Refuge and instead invest in the clean energy of the future, or they can risk losing their social license and trillions in funds in pursuit of the dirty fuels of the past."

Simon Billenness, President, CSR Strategy Group, said:

"Regarding Wirth's response to repeated questions about Chevron's toxic legacy in Ecuador, in a statement reminiscent of OJ Simpson after his trial when he said he would search for the real killers of Nicole Smith, Wirth said the ‘true tragedy was American trial lawyers misleading the public'."

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