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NEWS - Oil Cos. Face Human Rights A
- Subject: NEWS - Oil Cos. Face Human Rights A
- From: Rangoonp@xxxxxxx
- Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 12:59:00
Subject: NEWS - Oil Cos. Face Human Rights Abuses
Oil Companies Face Human Rights Abuses
By MARTHA BELLISLE
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
``a model corporate citizen in Colombia for 30 years.''
Appealing to stockholders is just one of a growing number of strategies
activists to influence the behavior of oil companies, said Arvind
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
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
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
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,
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
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.