[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

NEWS - Oil Cos. Face Human Rights A

Subject: NEWS - Oil Cos. Face Human Rights Abuses 

Oil Companies Face Human Rights Abuses 

 Associated Press Writer 

 LOS ANGELES (AP) ? Human rights activists in the United
 States and abroad increasingly are calling upon the world's
 major oil companies to leave oil-rich regions where tales of
 torture and disappearances flow as freely as crude itself. 

 Recent activism includes a campaign by women's groups to stop
 the construction of a pipeline in Afghanistan, a lawsuit against a
 California oil company's practices in Myanmar and protests over
 the deaths of three activists, including Terence Freitas of Los
 Angeles, in Colombia. 

 This week in Los Angeles, a Colombian Indian tribe and its
 supporters will ask Occidental Petroleum Corp. shareholders to
 consider an ultimatum: drop drilling plans on their tribal land or
 they will commit mass suicide by walking off a 1,400-foot cliff. 

 At Friday's meeting in Santa Monica, shareholders will face the
 demands and vote on a resolution ? written in part by Freitas before he
 killed by Colombian guerrillas in February ? that calls for a study on
 opposition by the 5,000-member tribe could affect profits. 

 Los Angeles-based Occidental opposes the resolution, saying it has
acted as
 ``a model corporate citizen in Colombia for 30 years.'' 

 Appealing to stockholders is just one of a growing number of strategies
used by
 activists to influence the behavior of oil companies, said Arvind
Ganesan, an
 analyst with Human Rights Watch in New York. 

 ``It's an industry under pressure on human rights now,'' Ganesan said.
 ``Shareholder meetings are a good forum to air these kinds of

 Although most oil giants refuse to pull out of troubled regions, some
 responding with new corporate human rights policies, he said. 

 ``Companies are realizing that, because of the reputation hit they can
take in
 an environment of low oil prices, it's not in the company's best
interest to have
 a human rights problem,'' Ganesan said. 

 Freitas was a longtime U'wa supporter who worked to keep Occidental
 drilling on tribal land. His organization, the U'wa Defense Working
 contends that oil brings violence: Guerrillas target pipelines and
 villages and governments respond by militarizing the regions. 

 ``Oil always brings an ugly transformation of the culture and almost
 brings violence,'' said Robert Benson, a Loyola University law
professor, who
 heads a group seeking to bring state pressure on companies. 

 In a petition filed last week with state Attorney General Bill Lockyer,
 group asked the state to revoke the corporate charter of El
 Union Oil Company of California, or Unocal. 

 Benson claims that in Myanmar, Unocal has forced villagers to relocate
 used forced labor to build the company's infrastructure. 

 Unocal denies the allegations. Mike Thacher, a Unocal spokesman, says
 company is a solid corporate citizen. Just this year, it formalized a
 position on human rights, he said. 

 ``The bottom line is, we respect human rights in all of our projects,''
 said. ``This includes our investment in Myanmar and it would have
 any investment in Afghanistan, had we had one.'' 

 In December, Unocal withdrew from a plan to build an $8 billion
 through Afghanistan. Feminist groups had criticized the company over
 project, which required working with the Taliban, an Islamic militia
 interpretation of religious law has forced women to wear an
all-enveloping veil
 and banned women from work and girls from school. 

 Thatcher said the company withdrew over concern that there ``was not a
 stable government in place that was recognized by the U.S.'' 

 Unocal was the only major U.S. company still in Myanmar after Atlantic
 Richfield Co. ended its natural gas exploration there last year. 

 Arco, based in Los Angeles, also contended its retreat from Myanmar,
ruled by
 a military government accused of human rights abuses, was a business
 decision that had nothing to do with human rights. 

 But human rights may be playing a bigger role in company policies. 

 Chevron faced a shareholder proposal in 1997 asking the board to
 guidelines for working in countries with ongoing human rights
 Shareholders have, also without success, made similar demands of Royal
 Dutch-Shell over its drilling operations in Nigeria. 

 Although the proposals have failed, Shell has altered its approach to
 rights issues, said spokeswoman Cerris Tavinor, in a phone interview
from the
 company's office in London. 

 In the past two years, Shell has consulted with human rights groups and
 adopted a human rights policy, Ms. Tavinor said. 

 ``We do withdraw if violence occurs and we have canceled contracts if
 not happy with the other participating groups' behavior,'' she said. 

 However, Ms. Tavinor acknowledged that the Nigerian government makes
 own decisions about ``protecting strategic installations.'' 

 ``We can't control any government anywhere,'' she said.