Pub date May 27, 2009
WriterSarah Phelan

When Chevron Corp. holds its annual shareholders meeting at its San Ramon headquarters May 27, its top executives are expected to give investors a glowing report on how this global enterprise came to rake in a profit of $23.9 billion last year — a staggering 28.1 percent increase over the past year.

As Chevron CEO Dave O’Reilly put it in the company’s annual report, 2008 was "a momentous year." Apparently O’Reilly will also claim that his company’s activities are improving people’s lot worldwide. "Energy," he writes, "is not a luxury — it’s the foundation for economic growth. By investing in the future, we’re creating value not only for our stakeholders, but we’re also building economic prosperity around the globe."

But O’Reilly’s high opinion of his company is not shared by a growing coalition of groups who believe that Chevron’s fifth consecutive year of record profits was earned, once again, at the cost of degrading the environment and its poorest communities, both here in Richmond and further afield, from the Amazon and Nigeria to Iraq and Kazakhastan.

Critics, who include what they describe as "a coalition of those directly affected by Chevron’s operations, political control, consumer abuse, and false promises," planned to hold a May 26 press conference to release The True Cost of Chevron, an alternative annual report that seeks to provide Chevron shareholders "with the most comprehensive exposé of Chevron’s operations — and the communities in struggle against them — ever compiled," according to the report’s authors.

The study includes reports from Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, the Gulf Coast, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Utah, Washington, D.C, and Wyoming as well as Angola, Burma, Canada, Chad, Cameroon, Ecuador, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, and the Philippines.

The next day, people carrying shareholder proxies intend to enter Chevron’s annual meeting to discuss the report with shareholders while a protest is held at Chevron’s front gates.

"Chevron’s 2008 annual report is a glossy celebration of the company’s most profitable year in its history, and one in which CEO David O’Reilly became the 15th highest paid U.S. chief executive, with nearly $50 million in total 2008 compensation," the authors state. "What Chevron’s annual report does not tell its shareholders is the true cost paid for those financial returns or the global movement gaining voice and strength against Chevron’s abuses."

The 44-page report details numerous lawsuits against the company, nationally and around the world — cases, the report’s authors claim, that have "potential liabilities in excess of Chevron’s total revenue from 2008, posing a material threat to shareholder value and the company’s bottom line."

As they wrote: "When a company operates in blatant disregard for the health, security, livelihood, safety, and environment of communities within which it operates, there can be real financial repercussions."

The report concludes with six specific obligations demanded of Chevron and leaves shareholders with the following message: "Chevron is right. The world will continue to use oil as it transitions to a sustainable green renewable energy economy. Whether Chevron will be in business as we make the transition depends upon what sort of company it chooses to be and whether the public is willing to support it."

The report also includes a series of large "ChevWrong Inhumane Energy ads" that spoof Chevron’s Human Energy ad campaign — images that popped up all across San Francisco last week after a group of renegade Chevron critics gathered at an secret location, mixed batches of wheat paste, and grabbed armfuls of the freely downloadable posters and set off into the night to bomb the city streets with the series of subvertisements.

Claiming that Chevron’s Human Energy campaign, which depicts smiling people alongside phrases like "I will try to leave the car at home more" is an attempt to greenwash the petro-giant’s activities, this group of mostly youthful critics pointed to the ongoing pollution, human rights abuses, and wars in regions where the oil company is stationed as they set off on bicycles, skateboards, and foot, armed with glue rollers and stacks of "ChevWrong" images. Some stashed their tools in Banana Republic shopping bags, which gave them an almost comical air of being disoriented tourists as they lurked and lingered on city street corners searching for suitable spots to paste their alternative ad campaign.

Soon newspaper racks on Market Street, pillars outside the Ferry Building, buildings in the Richmond District, and walls in North Beach bore the fruits of their work — along with the glass office door of public relations consultant Sam Singer, who represented Chevron in criticizing two renowned Ecuadorian environmental activists who were in town to receive the Goldman Prize.

"I will not complain about my asthma," states one such subversive ad, which depicts a beautiful but non-smiling young black man beside the claim that "Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, Calif. poisons the community." The ad is accompanied by a retooled logo that says "ChevWrong."

"I will try not to get cancer," states another that hot glue artists had affixed to Sandra Bullocks’ buttocks — or at least a life-sized depiction of the actress featured on a Market Street billboard promoting The Proposal.

"I will suffer in silence" states another, alongside the claim that Chevron props up Burma’s military dictatorship.

An ad reading "I will give my baby contaminated water" portrayed a smiling Nigerian woman alongside the claim that Chevron refuses to clean up its mess in Nigeria.

One activist told the Guardian she got involved "because Chevron is poisoning communities and cutting corners across the world, and is even shameless enough to do that here in Richmond."

Another said he was inspired to take this action because of a billion-dollar lawsuit Chevron is fighting in Ecuador, and because of its activities in Nigeria.

Others said they decided to drop the subvertisements all over the city after they heard that CBS Outdoor refused May 14 to sell the group space for the images on billboards citywide.

As they noted, the images are all freely downloadable from, a site supported by Amazon Watch, Crude Accountability, Global Exchange, Justice in Nigeria Now, Rainforest Action Network, CorpWatch, Filipino-American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, Trustees for Alaska, Communities for a Better Environment, Mpalabanda, Richmond Progressive Alliance, and EarthRights International.

Mitch Anderson, corporate accountability campaigner with Amazon Watch, confirmed that members of the truecostofchevron coalition approached CBS Outdoor but were told that CBS has a policy not to run negative or attack ads — a claim Anderson found laughable. "What about all the attack ads we see posted during election season?"

A CBS Outdoor spokesperson confirmed that CBS had refused to accept the proposed ad campaign, and that it is the company’s policy not to run negative or attack ads.

Calls to Rachel Sutton, Chevron PR person at its corporate headquarters in San Ramon, seeking comments about truecostofchevron’s charges remained unanswered as of press time.

But at Amazon Watch, Anderson said he thought it was "great that the Bay Area community took to the streets this week to tell Chevron that our hearts and minds are not for sale.

"Chevron is trying to paper-over its widespread human rights and environmental problems across the world by spending millions to propagate insulting lies," he continued. "From its disaster in Ecuador to its hiring of global warming deniers as lobbyists, this company has shown complete disregard for the environment, human rights, and yes, wisdom. Chevron is on the wrong side of history. Just as there can be no social justice on a dead planet, Chevron should know that you can’t profit off a dead planet either."

In a final swipe at Chevron’s Human Energy campaign, critics are distributing posters that ask "Will you join us?" and show a woman smiling alongside the promise "I will protest Chevron."