The Case Against Chevron 

An unprecedented campaign by at least a dozen nonprofit groups targets the oil company's global operations and reputation.

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Burma, also known as Myanmar, may be Chevron's biggest black eye. Here, the issue is not so much environmental impacts, but rather the ruthless killing and looting of nearby villages by armed forces funded by Chevron. The brutal military junta ruling the country is also siphoning off revenues from oil operations and, according to Earth Rights International, stashing it in banks in Singapore.

Earth Rights International, a small nonprofit organization that started up in 1994 focused on human rights abuses in Burma, is the prime mover behind the anti-Chevron work. Despite proposed legislation in Congress that would require Chevron to pull out of Burma, that is not the group's top priority. Rather, it argues that any new projects going forward in Burma should not rely upon the military as a police force. Such battalions are used to patrol pipeline regions, fostering a variety of human rights abuses, including forced labor, land grabs, and murder. Along with contributing to The True Cost of Chevron report, Earth Rights International has released a series of reports about how revenues from oil operations there are not trickling down to provide economic benefits to local citizens.

Chevron has purported to document the benefits of programs financed by oil companies in 25 Burmese villages since 2002. These reports claim that disease rates are down, while literacy rates are up. Abuses in villages located directly in pipeline corridors have also gone down, but these reports do not acknowledge that abuses in nearby villages have gone up, the organization claims. "Chevron and its partners need to acknowledge a corporate responsibility beyond the 25 villages that exist in pipeline corridors," said Paul Donowitz, Earth Rights International's point person for its Chevron campaign. Because Burma does not pay its military and soldiers are now banned from looting and raiding villagers residing in these pipeline corridors, Donowitz claims they are just expanding their search for food and other supplies in nearby areas.

In essence, Chevron argues that if it leaves Burma, Chinese oil companies will move in to fill the void, and then local villages will be worse off than they are now, which is quite possibly true. The oil business can be dirty indeed.

Beyond the torture and mayhem, the other atrocity in Burma is that the "paradox of plenty" is in full display. Earth Rights International claims it has evidence from confidential sources that $4.8 billion has been diverted from the country's national budget from the Yadana natural gas pipeline to the military regime and is sitting in two banks in Singapore, depriving local communities of virtually any economic benefits from oil operations while enduring violent acts of social injustice.

Kazakhstan is the largest private oil development area in the former Soviet Union. Chevron was the first private oil company to drill here in 1993 and is Kazakhstan's largest private producer. The company owns a 20 percent stake in the Karachaganack Field.

More than six years ago, the village of Berezovka, comprised of just 1,300 people and located within five kilometers of these expanding oil drilling operations, was promised to be moved to a "village of the 21st century." National and international laws require the relocation of any village that close to such oil exploration facilities.

The consortium of oil companies and government is rumored to be close to relocating Berezovka, according to Michelle Kinman with Crude Accountability, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization that is focused on environmental-justice issues near the Caspian Sea. "We are cautiously optimistic, since this action is predicated on national laws," Kinman said. In her view, the companies involved with consortium, including Chevron, do not want to set a precedent that raises expectations on future relocations too high.

Unfortunately, previous relocations have not been done well. The residents of one rural village, Tengiz, were all moved into a single urban high-rise building. Disputes over compensation of roughly $1,500 per household involved methods of counting what was and wasn't a "household." Crude Accountability claims that few of these villagers were given any training about how to live and work in an urban setting. The organization is working toward making the relocation of Berezovka a successful one, while simultaneously convincing the World Bank and other financial institutions to not fund oil and natural gas development that fosters pollution or human rights abuses throughout the Caspian Sea.

Nigeria may represent Chevron's toughest challenge yet. What happens in Nigeria could have major impacts on future operations in a continent destined to become the top oil producer for the United States in the coming decades. In fact, Africa already supplies the United States with more oil than the Middle East.

Nigeria's population of 150 million people makes it the most populous country in Africa. The country is torn by cultural and religious strife. The north is predominately Muslim and has traditionally dominated governing structures. The south is comprised primarily of poor Christian populations living near the oil reserves in the Niger Delta, a former fishing community. These southerners traditionally have not had much voice in governmental affairs.

Oil operations have decimated fish populations, interrupting the traditional way of life in the Niger Delta. Many villagers write long detailed letters to Chevron about the impacts oil operations have on their lives — but they never get a response. Chevron employees live in barricades so they have no interaction with the local population. As of late, villagers have become armed and steal oil — locals call it "bunkering" — and Chevron has begun to bribe armed rebels to allow oil to get to market, further entrenching a culture of corruption in Nigeria.

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