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Total and Chevron Lied to their Shareholders
by Matthew Smith
Last week, I posted an article on The Huffington Post explaining ERI’s documentation that Total and Chevron lied to their shareholders about their ability to practice complete revenue transparency in Burma (Myanmar). The companies, partners in the Yadana gas pipeline in Burma, have privately told inquiring shareholders that they’re contractually restricted from publishing what they pay to that country's dictatorship, and that their contracts with the ruling military regime are strictly confidential. Neither claim is true. ERI recently published the companies’ contracts with Burma's state-owned oil company – they’re public documents, available for the world to see – and nothing in the contracts would prevent revenue transparency.
In some ways, this fiscal brand of deceit around the companies’ notorious pipeline in Burma is novel. Their principal lies with regard to their presence in Burma have usually come in the form of exaggerated claims about their positive development impacts in the country, or in outright denials of responsibility for violent abuses committed on their watch, abuses like forced labor, killings, and torture. Never mind that the companies paid out large settlements to Burmese plaintiffs who sued Chevron’s predecessor Unocal in the US, and Total in France, for complicity in forced labor and other human rights violations along the pipeline.
But perhaps one of Total’s more unabashed lies was when the company publicly claimed on its website, for seven years, that it had successfully “eradicated” forced labor in its “pipeline corridor” in Burma, and that the U.N.’s International Labour Organization (ILO) certified the claim. In 2009, we published nearly 200 pages of original research documenting this claim as patently untrue. Not only did Total fail to eradicate forced labor around its pipeline, but the ILO never claimed they did; the ILO actually went on record explicitly disavowing the claim.
In other words, Total lied. The company has since quietly removed the false assertion about the ILO from their website, and then sheepishly acknowledged to shareholders that the statement “was a mistake.”
It seems oil companies are prone to mistakes these days.