SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Mar. 24 /CSRwire/ - More than 35 environmental and human rights groups are denouncing the San Francisco Commonwealth Club’s decision to bestow Chevron CEO John Watson with a citizenship award slated to be presented April 2nd at the group’s annual fundraising gala.
Many of the nation’s leading environmental and human rights advocates are jointly asking the Board of the Commonwealth Club to rescind the citizenship award for Watson in light of the company’s egregious environmental destruction in Ecuador’s Amazon and its attempts to manipulate a local election in a town where the company operates a refinery whose toxins forced thousands to seek medical care last year.
In a letter to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco — which counts many prominent Bay Area citizens as members — the environmental groups said any award to Watson would be an “affront not only to the ideals of the Commonwealth Club but also to the tens of thousands of people in communities in Ecuador and around the world affected by Chevron’s deliberate and reckless acts of environmental destruction.”
“The award of the Commonwealth Club is intended to recognize those who have made significant contributions to the global community,” said the letter, signed by Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network, Food and Water Watch, Global Exchange and almost 40 other civil society groups. “Mr. Watson does not come close to living up that ideal.”
The letter demands that the Commonwealth Club rescind the award or risk imposing “dishonor on its own tradition” of community service. Watson and three others, including Jennifer Siebel Newsom, wife of Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom, are scheduled to be honored by the club on April 2nd at a gala fundraising dinner in San Francisco.
Environmental group Amazon Watch, which organized the letter, issued a separate statement criticizing the Commonwealth Club for honoring Watson despite widespread reports that Chevron has failed to deal with its decades-long legacy of environmental problems.
“John Watson has consistently violated the ideals of good citizenship given that Chevron, under his leadership, has engaged in rapacious behavior in vulnerable communities in Ecuador and around the world,” said Paul Paz y Miño, a spokesperson for the organization. “This appears to be a pay-to-play situation where the Commonwealth Club sacrifices its ideals thinking the many fat cats from Chevron will buy tickets to the dinner.”
The letter cited Chevron’s growing legal problems related to its environmental liabilities.
In 2013, after 11 years of proceedings in Chevron’s chosen forum, the Supreme Court of Ecuador unanimously affirmed the company’s $9.5 billion liability for systematically dumping billions of gallons of oil waste into rainforest waterways relied on by local indigenous and farmer communities for their drinking water, bathing, and fishing. During the eight-year trial, a Chevron executive admitted the company discharged the toxic waste to lower production costs.
Chevron has refused to pay the award, with executives under Watson’s leadership openly vowing to fight the case until “hell freezes over” if the villagers persist in pursuing their claims.
Earlier this year in Davos, Chevron received an embarrassing lifetime achievement award from the Public Eye Awards for its bad corporate behavior in Ecuador and around the world. Chevron remains the only corporation in the world to receive the award twice.
The letter to the Commonwealth Club also cited Chevron’s unsuccessful attempt last year to contribute millions of dollars to elect a slate of pro-Chevron candidates in the Bay Area town of Richmond, where the company operates a refinery that has caused extensive pollution. An explosion there in 2012 led to criminal charges and prompted 15,000 people to seek medical attention, said the letter. Chevron’s scheme backfired and none of the Chevron candidates won office.
The letter also pointed out that in 2014, more than 40 civil society groups wrote a different open letter to Watson criticizing his company’s attempts to use retaliatory lawsuits to harass and silence critics of the company’s misconduct in Ecuador. Chevron confessed to using 60 law firms and 2,000 legal personnel to attack more than 100 lawyers and community activists who helped to hold the company accountable in the South American nation, where Chevron had accepted jurisdiction after the original pollution claims were filed in the United States.
“It is shocking that the Commonwealth Club would even consider honoring an oil company executive who has ‘distinguished’ himself by his near total lack of moral compass across so many issues of public importance,” said the letter.
Amazon Watch’s Paz y Mino said the group was in the process of contacting the other honorees to urge them to turn down their awards as a form of protest in favor of the indigenous communities in Ecuador who have been victimized by Chevron’s pollution.
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