Our cousins across the pond were horrified and, rightly so, at the damage wrought by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But what about the misconduct of the U.S oil company, Chevron, in Ecuador?
With its vast financial resources, the oil giant has employed hundreds of lawyers and legal assistants from dozens of law firms worldwide to fight the claims of the indigenous groups of Ecuador. It launched an international smear campaign against the victims of its contamination, calling them con men and extortionists. But criticism of Chevron's tactics in the case is mounting.
The real victims of course are the people who bathe and drink the contaminated water and live among the toxic mess that remains today in their rainforest home. Thanks to the Herculean efforts of the lawyers representing these indigenous groups and the good sense of both the American and Ecuadorian courts, Chevron's campaign is falling apart.
Having fought this lawsuit for 18 years, they are running out of legal options. Both the trial and appellate courts in Ecuador, where Chevron insisted the case be heard, have found Chevron liable for $18 billion in damages.
It is time for Chevron to give up the fight and practice what it preaches in its multi-million dollar 'We Agree' ad campaign that promises to "support the communities" where Chevron drills.
From 1964 to 1990, Chevron dumped 16 to 18 billion gallons of toxic waste water in the waterways of the Amazon and built over 900 huge, unlined pits to store left over crude. Many of the 64,000 contamination tests taken during the trial, most of them Chevron's, revealed dangerous levels of toxins that still affect the drinking and bathing water of the Ecuadorian rainforest peoples today.
As soon as the evidence pointed to Chevron, the company fought back - not by arguing the merits of their conduct in the Amazon - but by accusing the Ecuadorians and their advisors of committing fraud. Company lawyers attempted to convince U.S. courts to sit in judgment on Ecuador's judiciary and block enforcement of the $18 billion judgment. The U.S. courts are having none of it. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York shut Chevron's latest campaign down earlier this year.
Now the oil giant is turning to an international tribunal, demanding that Ecuador's government stop enforcement of the claimants' well-earned judgment under treaty provisions between the U.S. and Ecuador. Under tribunal rules, the Ecuadorians have no say in the matter and are blocked from presenting evidence of Chevron's misconduct. Ecuador's government and its courts have made clear that treaty provisions do not trump international law or the country's constitution, which does not allow the government to interfere with the court system, as in the U.S. and U.K. It is outrageous that treaty provisions are being abused to help Chevron escape justice.
Despite victories by the Ecuadorians in U.S. and Ecuador courts, Chevron still has the resources and political influence to tough it out - the plaintiffs estimate they have spent at least USD 500M in legal and other fees fighting this to date.
The international community needs to stand up and tell the company that enough is enough. Chevron has promised to fight the Ecuadorians until "hell freezes over, and then skate it out on the ice." I'm sure they mean it.
This is why I'm taking the case to my colleagues on the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tribal Peoples, to see what we can do to highlight it and help the long-suffering indigenous peoples of Ecuador.
Now is the time to call Chevron to account, not only in the Court of Law but also in the Court of Public Opinion and to rally all stakeholders - politicians, investors and the public - to pressure Chevron to do the right thing. Just as BP is doing in the United States.
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