Oiling the wheels of injustice

| 23rd May 2019
An oil spill resulting from Chevron's oil drilling in Ecuador's Amazon region.
An oil spill resulting from Chevron's oil drilling in Ecuador's Amazon region.
Indigenous communities in the Amazon are still awaiting justice for the damage inflicted on their environments and health by Texaco.

This epic case of injustice involving three decades of struggle is a very good example of why we need a legally binding UN Treaty on transnational corporations and human rights.

Hundreds of civil society organisations - representing an estimated 280 million people - came together this week for the International Day of Action Against Chevron, the company that acquired Texaco in 2000. 

Participants expressed their outrage at the impunity that the American oil giant Chevron continues to enjoy, and voiced their solidarity with the indigenous communities affected by Chevron’s toxic environmental practices.

Nick Meynen, environmental and economic justice policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said: “Chevron has ignored a ruling by the Ecuadorian Supreme Court ordering it to clean up the toxic mess Texaco left behind in the Amazon that is still killing and poisoning people and to compensate the victims. It also attacks those who defend the victims with shock-and-awe lawfare.” 

Hell’s ice rink

Indigenous peoples affected by decades of leaks and dumping in the Amazon from the Lago Agrio oil installation in Ecuador have been seeking justice and compensation from Texaco, the field’s then operator, since 1993.

Evidence gathered during the investigation shows that Texaco dumped some 68 billion litres of toxic wastewater and hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil into the rainforest during its operations in north-east Ecuador.

At the time the litigation was first brought, a company spokesperson said: “We will fight this until hell freezes over, and then fight it out on the ice.” The oil giant has stayed true to its word.

Over the past quarter of a century, the class action lawsuit has shifted through numerous jurisdictions, including the United States, Ecuador, the Netherlands and Canada.

In 2011, the Supreme Court of Ecuador ordered Chevron, which had since acquired Texaco, to pay $18 billion in compensation to the victims, later reduced to $9.5 billion, down from the original estimate of $27 billion. Chevron, which has no substantial assets in Ecuador, has refused to pay the fine.

Legal battle

Chevron later alleged that the Ecuadorian court’s ruling was acquired through corruption, even though it was the oil company which had insisted on moving the case from the United States to Ecuador.

Ecuador rejected the allegation and environmental groups are convinced it was a ploy to escape liability. But Chevron did then return to the US court system to launch a counterattack.

Steven Donziger, the American human rights lawyer representing the affected indigenous communities, said: “Chevron used a US law designed to attack the Mafia in an effort to criminalise human rights advocacy. This allowed Chevron to claim to be a victim of the very villagers it had poisoned.” 

Donziger experienced the full force of Chevron’s legal army. Not only did a New York judge who reportedly owned shares in Chevron refuse to consider the mountain of evidence of contamination acquired by environmental experts, Donzinger related, but Chevron’s witness in the case against Donziger later admitted to lying in his testimony and receiving large payoffs from Chevron.

Last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which is not actually a court of law but a tribunal to arbitrate between states, ruled in favour of Chevron.

Evading responsibility

Meynen explained: “This epic case of injustice involving three decades of struggle is a very good example of why we need a legally binding UN Treaty on transnational corporations and human rights."

While Chevron has used its global reach and deep pockets to evade its responsibility to clean up the jungle it polluted, the villagers who paid the price for its negligence continue to suffer without compensation."

Meynen concluded: “The EEB believes that polluting companies should pay to clean up the mess they leave behind. It is high time for Chevron to stop evading justice and start delivering it.”

An EU wide campaign is calling on EU leaders to support the achievement of a UN binding treaty to hold transnational corporations to account for human rights violations, and end their impunity. Read more about the campaign here.

Right of reply

Sean Comey, the senior advisor for corporate issues, litigation and financial communications at Chevron Corporation, said: "The claims against Chevron are false and unsupported by scientific evidence."

This Author

Khaled Diab is a senior communications officer, with a particular focus on the sustainable development goals, economic transition and environmental justice.

This article was first published on Meta, the news site from the European Environmental Bureau.

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