Chevron Shareholders Ignore Company's Abuses

A textbook sociopath is difficult to pick out of a crowd unless you have special training as a shrink. So just imagine how difficult it becomes when that sociopath is a corporation that spends billions of dollars on ad campaigns that hide their most malignant qualities. Money spent in the right way can easily mask that corporation's reduced ability to feel empathy for other people. It can hide irresponsible behavior and lack of remorse. It can disguise the patterns of deceitfulness that help define a sociopath's personality disorder.

Chevron had profits in 2008 of $24 billion. They have enough money to create slick commercials where they overwhelm us with images of blue skies over pristine looking waterways. Children are usually playing at the edge of that waterway with a family that stepped right out of Disney casting. The gentle voice in the background tells us that Chevron cares immensely about our health and our planet. That voice tells us that Chevron is frantically looking for solar, wind, and hydrogen alternatives to fossil fuel. But here is the reality check. Two weeks ago a coalition of the most prestigious human rights activists in the world handed Chevron a chilling report entitled, "The True Cost of Chevron." Reuters reported that the CEO at Chevron said the report was insulting and should be thrown in the trash. I agree that it was insulting for any corporation that does not want to be characterized as a brutal global thug. But David O'Reilly, Chevron's C.E.O., should not be too quick to throw this document in the trash.

It is a report that tells stories about human rights abuses in places like Nigeria and Burma, where Chevron has been accused of promoting military violence that involves beatings and kidnappings of community activists. Those activists object to oil extraction systems that destroy waterways, ecosystems, and breathable air. As you read this column, court hearings in Ecuador are taking place where Chevron stands potentially responsible for $25 billion in damages to Ecuador's waterways and aquifers.

Before Mr. O'Reilly throws this report into a trashcan, he should tell shareholders why Chevron was accused of providing influence gifts to U.S. Department of Interior employees last year. That is the scandal where government staff accepted thousands of dollars in influence gifts, and engaged in sex and used cocaine with oil industry representatives. That was the very agency that was supposed to police Chevron's conduct on U.S. soil. But there's more. While Chevron is selling their green alternative image in multi-million dollar ads, the truth is that they are spending less than 3% of their almost limitless capital on developing green alternative energy. But why worry about alternative energy when they run an oligopoly that has swallowed up independent refineries and retail stations to the point that Chevron controls how much oil gets refined and how much fuel gets to pumps? Price manipulation is always just one fuel crisis away.

Prognosis for sociopaths is never good because they are too quick to deny that they have a serious problem. But I'm sure any well-trained shrink would at least advise Chevron to take a first step. That begins with reading the report.