Sleeper Hits of the Summer – Part 1: The Curious Case of 30,000 Indigenous People vs. Chevron

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By Anna Phelan, Amnesty International USA’s Business & Economic Relations Group

Among my picks for sleeper hits of the summer, is a powerful documentary film called Crude: The Real Price of Oil. The film is described as a real-life high stakes legal drama, set against a backdrop of the environmental movement, global politics, celebrity activism, human rights advocacy, the media, multinational corporate power, and rapidly-disappearing indigenous cultures. For the most part, the main characters aren’t actors… well, I mean Chevron’s invested a lot of money and time in their web of lies, so maybe they’ve been taking acting lessons. And so far, Chevron’s signature method of acting has been to deny responsibility and shift the blame for contaminated soil and groundwater in the communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

:: Learn more about the history of oil in the Amazon and Amnesty’s work ::

On Sunday, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke of how indigenous communities suffer disproportionately from low health standards linked to poverty, malnutrition, environmental contamination and inadequate healthcare marking the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. The hardship and discrimination faced by indigenous peoples has a lot to do with the fact that they are often excluded from decision-making processes – by both governments and corporations. In her Op-Ed piece, Navanethem Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for more than a symbolic celebration saying, after centuries of repression, they need comprehensive tools to defend their human rights, their way of life, and their aspirations.

And that’s what makes the case against Chevron a compelling story for film – not unlike the Doe v. Unocal lawsuit or, more recently, Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Shell. Indigenous peoples are gaining access to the legal system to challenge governments and transnational companies and defend their human rights. You might not know their names, but the 30,000 indigenous people who filed suit against Texaco (now Chevron) in 1993 are more than Extras. They are the real-life protagonists.

Sleeper hits are made by word of mouth recommendations. Crude: The Real Price of Oil opens to larger audiences on 09/09/09. Take action now to show your support of human rights for the indigenous communities of Amazon’s Ecuador.

Crude: The Real Price of Oil Trailer

Amnesty Int'l Blocked from Chevron Shareholder Meeting

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By Tony Cruz, member of Amnesty International USA’s Business & Economic Relations Group

On Wednesday, May 27th, I traveled to Chevron’s Annual Shareholder Meeting to represent Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) and its interests as a shareholder of Chevron Corporation (CVX) and to join other NGOs in a delegation to address the company’s role in some of the most well publicized human rights abuses across the globe. Maybe you’ve heard the good news that Toxic Waste Won’t Make You Sick!

Unfortunately, I was turned away at the door. I had the AIUSA proxy (ticket) in hand, but I did not have a letter from the AIUSA brokerage firm. Chevron claimed that I lacked sufficient documentation to attend the meeting. In other words, I had the legal right to attend, but was denied entrance because of a technicality.

Attending these shareholder meetings is one the highlights of my year: a 3-5 minute war of words with the MAN, a verbal boxing match between Amnesty International and Chevron. Had I been allowed to represent AIUSA at the meeting, I would have made the following statement:

In a recent 60 Minutes interview, your representative claimed that the judicial system in Ecuador cannot be trusted. But the fact is that the trial is currently taking place in Ecuador at Chevron’s request after the company REQUESTED that it be transferred out of the U.S. federal court, where it was filed in 1993. Can you explain why you have changed your mind, aside from wanting to drag this case out as long as possible with utter disregard for the rights of the plaintiffs? And in the same interview, your representative claimed that the toxic sludge that the Ecuadorian communities are exposed to is no worse than the makeup she is wearing. Do you really believe that?

I didn’t get to represent AIUSA members inside the meeting, so I dusted myself off, walked to the front of Chevron Headquarters, and joined the strong 100 protesters in supporting the NGO delegation. Later that afternoon, I went online and read the headlines: Chevron Meeting Heats Up Over Ecuador Lawsuit; Chevron CEO Clashes with Activists at Annual Meeting; and “Chevron CEO says Resemblance to Pinocchio is just coincidental”. Ok, so I made that last one up. But it was a victory! The meeting received great press. I have never been more confident that Chevron will be held accountable because of everyday people, who showed up at the crack of dawn on a Wednesday morning in San Ramon, California to support people they will never meet.

Learn more about Amnesty’s Shareholder Activism