San Ramon, CA – Chevron held its Annual General Meeting online once again, taking advantage of the opportunity to limit community engagement during the meeting. However, its CEO Mike Wirth did not succeed in curtailing scathing shareholder criticism from the Board of Directors. Instead, Chevron faced the most sweeping criticism for its actions in over a decade.
Wirth ended the meeting in just over an hour, having only responded to a handful of questions. The Chevron CEO dismissed criticism with new lies about the company’s operations, including its deliberate contamination in the Amazon. This environmental and human rights case in Ecuador continues to plague Chevron management, a decade after it lost a historic $9.5 billion judgement.
“The same day that a Dutch court ruled that by 2030 Shell must reduce its carbon emissions by 45% and shareholders shook up ExxonMobil’s board of directors over climate change, Chevron’s management showed complete unwillingness to address company impacts on the global climate and communities affected by its pollution. Wirth even went as far as claiming that Chevron ‘strengthens communities’ where it operates, even though its admitted contamination in Ecuador has poisoned local populations daily for over thirty years,” said Paul Paz y Miño of Amazon Watch who participated in the meeting online.
In the heavily scripted online event, Wirth dismissed criticism from shareholders about Chevron’s lack of transparency for political contributions and support for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and he also dodged a response to the recent International Energy Association’s new “roadmap” for the energy sector in which it argued that the world needs a “radical” shift in energy sources in order for the world to meet the 1.5°C global warming limit goal, as laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement. The report affirmed that “there is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply in our net zero pathway.” Wirth only responded with, “it just came out last week” and “there are many paths forward.” Instead, he claimed Chevron’s strategy could be summed up in four green-washing words: “Higher returns, lower carbon.”
Regarding Ecuador, Wirth trotted out a new set of carefully calculated talking points that also appeared in the company’s proxy statement. Despite reviews and unanimous affirmation by the highest levels of the Ecuadorian judiciary on the 2011 Lago Agrio pollution judgment against Chevron, Wirth claimed that “Ecuador acknowledges that the Ecuadorian judgment is fraudulent.” It was an attempt to mislead the public and reporters by quoting a former Chevron consultant, now an official in the Ecuadorian government, who made an unofficial remark stating that she personally believed Chevron’s claims. That position has been repeatedly rejected by the government of Ecuador which continues to defend its judgment in international courts. Chevron continues to willfully ignore that the decision was upheld by both Ecuador’s Supreme and Constitutional Courts.
Wirth doubled down on his false statements regarding the Ecuador case by claiming that, “every court outside of Ecuador has said its [the Lago Agrio judgment] fraudulent and unenforceable.” The truth is that three appellate courts in Canada – including the Canadian Supreme Court – ruled that the Ecuador judgment is enforceable. In fact, even the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals made that determination when it ruled the Ecuadorians could seek enforcement outside of the United States. Additionally, Wirth falsely represented the position of the Supreme Court of Argentina, which dismissed the enforcement action on technical grounds but made no finding as to the merits of the judgment and left open the option to refile the action.
“For the last fourteen years, I have witnessed almost every judicial proceeding personally. Twenty-eight appellate judges have determined the Ecuador judgement is enforceable and one U.S. trial judge has said that it isn’t. That’s the truth Wirth wants to hide. Also, the Hague has never made any ruling about the Ecuador case, but Chevron continually mischaracterizes an award it received from a private investor arbitration panel, which Ecuador continues to dismiss,” responded Paz y Miño.
Wirth also failed to acknowledge growing support for the movement to free human rights lawyer Steven Donziger, who has been under house arrest for over 650 days and facing charges of criminal contempt of court for resisting Chevron’s attacks. 68 Nobel Laureates and six Members of Congress have recently demanded that the Department of Justice intervene in the case. “Chevron and Wirth’s attempts to ‘demonize’ and criminalize Donziger have backfired to such a spectacular degree that they no longer mention his name during their meetings,” added Paz y Miño.
Although it severely limited public comment and questions, the board and investors in attendance did hear from representatives of Newground Social Investment as it moved two of the shareholder resolutions 8 and 9, calling for a separation of board chair and CEO and the lowering of the threshold to call for a special meeting from 15 to 10 percent. The resolutions received 29 and 33 percent yes votes, respectively – representing billions of dollars of Chevron assets under management. The Economy of Francesco (chartered by Pope Francis in 2019), exiled human rights activist Khin Ohmar, and actress Susan Sarandon, volunteered to speak for Newground on behalf of these proposals at the meeting. (Videos available here. )
Actor and activist Susan Sarandon also submitted comments stating, “the money Chevron has spent trying to destroy attorney Steven Donziger is more than it would have cost them to take the environmental precautions needed to have prevented the toxic contamination in Ecuador, which the company does not deny having polluted. Now is the time for Chevron to accept responsibility for its actions and for this destructive legal proceeding to stop. Attorneys working on behalf of victims of human rights and environmental violations must not be criminalized. The shared enemies are climate change and pollution, not human rights lawyers, the afflicted peoples around the world, or their advocates.”
Amazon Watch submitted a question in response to Wirth’s comments which remains unanswered: “The CEO has mentioned the ‘Ecuador litigation’ but has said nothing about the actual fact of Chevron’s admitted contamination. Two years ago he claimed there was ‘no scientific evidence of contamination.’ Does he still maintain that claim? Regardless of the legal processes, Chevron admitted to pollution and it still remains in Ecuador. What will Chevron do about this?”
In recent weeks, Chevron has made headlines for supporting the Myanmar military and their efforts to stop U.S. sanctions due to the violence that has led to several deaths, including children. “Chevron chose to acquire a company – Unocal – with an egregious record of human rights abuse in Myanmar. Since then, Chevron’s Yadana pipeline has provided the Myanmar military junta with the money it needs to cling to power and continue its atrocities against the Burmese peoples. The U.S. government is considering ways to cut off this flow of oil money, but the New York Times reports that Chevron is helping the Myanmar military to lobby against those sanctions. Protests are being mounted outside Chevron facilities from Myanmar to California – it is apparent that the company’s support of the Myanmar military is harming Chevron’s reputation with both customers and shareholders,” said Simon Billenness, longtime shareholder activist and Executive Director of the International Campaign for the Rohingya.
Members of the growing community in support of the people of Myanmar held yet another in a series of live protests outside Chevron’s San Ramon, California headquarters which continued hours after the meeting itself had ended.
Participating from Australia, Anthony Collins, a representative of 350.org Perth commented that, “Chevron’s prioritizing of its dividend at the expense of everything else is always gut-wrenching to hear. What that results in here in Australia is:
- Chevron has not prioritized its faulty carbon capture and storage plant which, instead of burying CO2 underground (as it is legally required to do), has vented at least 8 million more tonnes than it is allowed into the atmosphere.
- Safety on Chevron’s Australian facilities has suffered as they have paid less money for faulty equipment resulting in major LNG infrastructure cracking and becoming a danger to workers. When recent accidents have happened on site (workers being exposed to mercury), emergency safety procedures have also failed.
- A quarter of Chevron Australia’s workforce has been laid off in the last year while shareholder dividends were prioritized.”
As with the comments of many other members of the public and concerned shareholders, Wirth chose not to respond to Collins’ question during the meeting.