HOUSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Chevron CEO John Watson was accused of violating corporate governance requirements and other laws when he apparently lost control of Chevron’s annual meeting yesterday, resulting in five arrests of well-known Chevron critics and a stunning shareholder rebuke over the company’s $27 billion potential Ecuador liability.
Chevron selectively denied entry to its critics, said Maria Ramos, an organizer with the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). RAN, along with Amazon Watch, had organized a delegation of critics of Chevron to attend the shareholder meeting. Ramos said a complaint would be filed against Chevron with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and also that the groups were exploring possible legal action against the oil giant for conspiring with the Houston police to suppress the Free Speech rights of the company’s critics.
“John Watson owes an apology to the public and to all Chevron shareholders for losing his head yesterday and letting the annual meeting degenerate into chaos and violation of the rights of his shareholders,” said Mitch Anderson, a critic of the company who works for Amazon Watch who was arrested by the Houston police at the meeting.
“Chevron planned to exclude shareholders critical of its human rights violations from its own meeting, and that is clearly illegal,” said Anderson.
Anderson was among five critics of Chevron arrested by Houston police who were visibly working in tandem with Chevron’s private security force, including the company’s director of global security. All five had either proxies or were actual shareholders, but were denied entry by Chevron’s security force based on supposed technical “defects” in the proxy statements or for no reason at all.
Others arrested were Han Shan, also a leading Chevron critic who works with Amazon Watch; the Rev. Kenneth Davis from Richmond, California, the site of a Chevron refinery that local residents say causes pollution; and Juan Parras, a Houston-based organizer who has confronted Chevron over pollution at its refineries in Texas. All said the arrests were prompted by Chevron’s security force, which summoned the arresting officers.
Anderson identified Chris Butner, a Chevron attorney, as the individual who carried out Chevron’s plan to fabricate reasons to exclude critics and provoke a confrontation that led to the arrests.
“Butner, a person with whom I had been in contact, could give no reason to deny me entry,” said Anderson. “He saw me try to enter the meeting as a shareholder and asked security to have me removed from the premises. The man lied to me.”
The arresting officers from the Houston police force admitted they were brought to the meeting by Chevron to serve as their “heavies” in the event Chevron security wanted people arrested. “We were clearly told by the Houston police who arrested us that Chevron wanted them to be their ‘heavies’ and that they were brought in by Chevron’s private security for that purpose,” said Shan.
“This was Chevron’s version of the poll tax – fabricate technical issues to prevent unwanted people from going to the polls to register complaints about the company’s atrocious human rights policies,” said Ramos, the RAN organizer. “Then call in the police to drive the point home. This is no different than what poll watchers used to do in Alabama to prevent blacks from voting.
“Chevron’s Board needs to investigate Watson to determine his role in this sordid behavior by a company that touts itself as modern and progressive,” said Ramos.
Inside the meeting, Chevron’s management team suffered a humiliating rebuke when shareholders aggressively supported a resolution stemming from the company’s massive potential liability in Ecuador with a whopping 26% of the vote, representing an estimated $38 billion in shareholder value.
The resolution, which called for the company to appoint a director with environmental expertise, was co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania State Treasury, Trillium Asset Management Corporation, and Amnesty International USA. Risk Metrics, an influential investment advisory group, advised shareholders to support the resolution.
The $38 billion in shareholder vote represents an increase of nearly 400% over previous resolutions associated with the Ecuador problem.
“The increase in votes cast in defiance of Watson’s recommendation helps explain they the company is jittery and feels like it needs to violate the law to suppress its critics,” said Anderson. “Chevron’s business model profits from human rights violations and we threaten that model.”
Watson’s efforts were frustrated by the sheer number of shareholder resolutions challenging the company’s stance on human rights and environmental issues. No fewer than 5 of the 6 separate shareholder resolutions on this year’s ballot called for action on various human rights and environmental issues, and management opposed each of them.
All told, more than $106 billion in votes were cast which defied company management.