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January 12, 2013
Shareowner Resolution Challenges Chevron for Attacking Investors
    by Robert Kropp

The Needmor Fund and Zevin Asset Management file a shareowner resolution requesting that Chevron explain the rationale behind issuing subpoenas to force investors to share confidential communications.


As described in the fifth of my series of top sustainable investment stories of 2012, Chevron's year started with a decision by an appeals court in Ecuador upholding the $19 billion judgment against it for environmental damages to the Ecuadoran Amazon rainforest, and ended with public outrage at subpoenas filed by the company's lawyers targeting its own shareowners.

The subpoena received by shareowner advocate Simon Billenness demands that he turn over not only documents pertaining to his work on Ecuador, but "All documents concerning SHAREHOLDER ACTIONS, including but not limited to CHEVRON shareholder resolutions sponsored by TRILLIUM beginning as of 2005, CHEVRON investor statements sponsored by TRILLIUM beginning as of 2009, and any SHAREHOLDER ACTIONS taken by the AFL-CIO."

"That Chevron is asking for everything is the unprecedented and invasive part of the subpoena," Billenness told SocialFunds.com in November. "One would think that if they really wanted to know about shareholder actions, they would meet with the shareholders who requested the meeting."

Chevron also filed an ethics complaint against Thomas DiNapoli, the trustee for the New York State Common Retirement Fund, charging that "DiNapoli and his office have aided a fraud apparently in return for money." According to the complaint, DiNapoli received $60,000 in political contributions from lawyers for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs.

"In an apparent quid pro quo exchange, DiNapoli has given his unwavering support and used his public office to take actions on behalf of the plaintiffs," Chevron charged.

In response to the complaint, DiNapoli stated, "This is a baseless attempt by big oil to intimidate me and it won't work."

It seems that 2013 is already shaping up to be another interesting year for the oil giant. Responding to the subpoenas seeking the private correspondence of Trillium Asset Management and Billenness, the Needmor Fund and Zevin Asset Management have filed a shareowner resolution for this year's proxy season, requesting that Chevron report on the "rationale for this new intervention," as well as its impact on investor relations and the precedent it could possibly set.

"We believe this is an unprecedented intrusion into investor communications related to an issue that has a distinct and negative impact on shareholder value," the resolution states. "This is seen by many investors as an unwarranted and irresponsible attack on private investor communications and if successful would establish a horrendous precedent opening the door for companies to sue investors who disagreed with them."

"We are shocked that a leading company like Chevron should attack investors whose only 'sin' was challenging the company regarding its environmental damages in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest and the impact on investors of the $18 billion legal action against Chevron," Daniel Stranahan, Chair of the Finance Committee of the Needmor Fund, said. "Talk about using cannon to swat a mosquito."

And Sonia Kowal, the Director of Socially Responsible Investing for Zevin Asset Management, said, "We are deeply concerned about the extremely bad precedent this would set if the Courts allowed Chevron to successfully subpoena the documents of individuals or investors simply because they were critical of a company’s conduct and worked with other investors to challenge it."

"Chevron's action would establish a new tool for companies to attack investors raising critical questions," Kowal continued. "This is a brazen attack on shareholder rights."

Billenness told SocialFunds.com that he and other shareowner advocates have re-filed three resolutions from last year's proxy season, rewriting them to include the implications of the recent legal developments.

 

 
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