Two camps have been formed within Congress, with senators and representatives choosing to side either with Chevron or with the indigenous people of Ecuador. One representative championing the side of the people is Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA). On November 17, 2009 Sánchez testified before the Trade Subcommittee hearing on trade preference systems. In her official press release her message was clear: “As we re-examine our preference systems, I urge the Committee to explore options for holding nations accountable for protecting the rights of working families… We should shape preferences programs to promote labor rights and a clean environment...” She went on to say, “Instead of allowing [the Amazon] case to come to a conclusion, embarking on clean-up efforts, or even seeking mediation, Chevron has engaged in a lobbying effort that looks like little more than extortion… if it can’t get the outcome it wants from the Ecuadorian court system, Chevron will use the U.S. government to deny trade benefits…” She concluded her testimony by saying, “Trade preferences should be used as a hand up to provide needed help to the families of developing nations, not a paddle to punish governments who refuse to succumb to the demands of multi-billion dollar corporations.”
The history of this law suit is a sordid one. According to the Amazon Watch’s ChevronToxico campaign page, between 1964 and 1990 Texaco, which was bought by Chevron in 2001, “dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste water, spilled roughly 17 million gallons of crude oil, and left hazardous waste in hundreds of open pits dug out of the forest floor.” Texaco/Chevron’s total disregard for environmental standards has resulted in one of the worst environmental disasters on the planet. However, labeling it as an environmental disaster is somewhat misleading. While the earth has most certainly suffered, the indigenous peoples that live off the land are the one’s that truly suffer. Cases of mouth, stomach, and uterine cancer; birth defects; and spontaneous miscarriages have been common occurrences since the systematic polluting began. Now, the battle continues to rage in court between Chevron the indigenous people that they tried to silence. Click here to see a time line of the trial and to learn more about the struggle watch “Crude” a documentary about the real price of oil.
This case clearly demonstrates the dangerous line we have allowed corporations to cross in the name of free trade. For years individuals, non-profits, and NGOs have tried to open the public’s eye to these dangers with little success. However, thanks to the backlash against the extreme measures taken by Chevron within the U.S. Congress these issues are beginning to receive the attention and critical eye they deserve, both within the public and private spheres. The Chevron case is throwing into question many practices commonly used by multinational corporations that were previously viewed as “necessary evils” such as disregard for the environment and labor. As Rep. Linda Sánchez stated in her press release, “We must abandon the naïve view that free trade alone is an economic development policy.” We can no longer afford to let corporations regard their land and labor supply as expendable if we want sustainable economic development to take place. The working poor are at the mercy of MNCs, therefore to level the playing field they must be free to protect themselves by forming unions and having a voice in their legal systems. But this alone is not enough, that is why, as articulated by Rep. Sánchez, governments must advocate for working families. One way to do this is to keep their interests’ in mind when creating new trade policies.
The Chevron case is not the only case of corporate abuse and disregard. Many similar cases have been filled by non-profits on behalf of exploited people, often workers. One non-profit that has championed the rights of workers is the International Rights Advocates. They have filled case against many well known brand names such as Coca-Cola, Bridgestone-Firestone, and Nestlé for abuse of their workers. Hopefully these cases, along with the current Chevron case, demonstrate that corporate accountability and advocacy for people will eventually become the norm.
You can help advocate for the environment and the rights of people and workers by taking action at these sites:
- Sign the petition calling on Mr. Watson, CEO of Chevron, to do the right thing in Ecuador!
- Send an e-mail to Bridgestone-Firestone asking them to play fair in Liberia!
- Tell Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé to Stop Using Child Labor!