December 20, 2013
NGOs Condemn Chevron for Assaults on Free Speech
by Robert Kropp
Following the most recent of Chevron's legal maneuvers to avoid responsibility for environmental
damage in Ecuador, a group of nongovernmental organizations publish an open letter condemning its
Earlier this week, I reviewed the recently published Engaging Outraged Stakeholders,
a book written by executives of the nonprofit Future 500 with the purpose of facilitating
engagement between corporations and their key stakeholders.
In my review, I offered
Chevron as an example of how not to engage with stakeholders. For years, shareowners have sought to
engage with Chevron over the potential long-term damage of choosing “to fight till hell freezes
over and then fight it out on the ice,” as the company's own legal counsel described its strategy
for dealing with a $9.5 billion judgment against it for environmental destruction in Ecuador.
However, instead of choosing engagement, Chevron chose the extraordinary tactic of issuing
subpoenas against its own shareowners and filing an ethics complaint against the Thomas DiNapoli,
the New York State Comptroller. Chevron “has targeted more than 100 supporters of the Ecuadorians,
including journalists and human rights activists, with subpoenas seeking their private
communications,” according to an analysis of a recently concluded racketeering trial held in the
New York courtroom of federal judge Lewis Kaplan.
Included among the recipients of the
subpoenas were shareowner advocate Simon Billenness of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the sustainable investment firm Trillium Asset Management.
company has also “filed thousands of motions in more than 30 US courts to try to undermine the
Ecuador judgment,” the analysis continued.
Judge Kaplan, the analysis argues, “has
displayed clear bias against the Ecuadorians and their attorneys, leading to multiple legal
mistakes that include the exclusion of all evidence of Chevron’s contamination relied on by
Ecuador’s trial court for its decision.” According to Burt Neuborne, the Founding Legal Director of
the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, Kaplan's decision sends
“an unmistakable message of American judicial arrogance to the rest of the world that can only
result in increased levels of reciprocal judicial suspicion and hostility, with negative
consequences for the transnational rule of law.”
Despite Judge Kaplan's decision, a
Canadian appeals court ruled this week that the Ecuadorian plaintiffs can seek enforcement of a
$9.5 billion judgment against Chevron by taking action against the assets held by Chevron in
“After all these years, the plaintiffs deserve to have the recognition and
enforcement of the judgment heard on the merits in an appropriate jurisdiction,” the appeals court
In response to Judge Kaplan's decision in the RICO case, a group of organizations
and individuals published an open letter
condemning “the actions by Chevron in its efforts to silence critics and ignore a $9.5 billion
judgment against it for environmental damage in the Ecuadorian Amazon.”
set a dangerous precedent and represent a growing and serious threat to the ability of civil
society to hold corporations accountable for their misdeeds around the world,” the letter states.
“These tactics represent a threat to any civil society effort to challenge corporate power
and prevent abuses,” the letter coontinued. “We therefore condemn Chevron's actions as legal
“scorched earth” tactics and as an unacceptable practice to respond to those who challenge
corporate acts that damage human rights and the environment.”
“Advocacy in all of its
forms is in jeopardy.”
Signatories to the letter include Amazon Watch, the Center for
Environmental Health, Corporate Accountability International, EarthRights International, Food and
Water Watch, Global Exchange, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
Greenpeace USA, OilChange International, the Pachamama Alliance, the Rainforest Action Network ,
the Sierra Club, and 350.org.