It may sound like the plot of some hackneyed corporate espionage thriller, but it’s all too true: Having lost a massive environmental lawsuit in two different countries based on the merits of the case, Chevron is now resorting to a secret international arbitration panel made up of pro-corporate lawyers to evade responsibility for the environmental and human rights crisis the company created in Ecuador.
We’re not going to let Chevron get away with it, of course. We’re here in Washington, DC, where a panel of corporate lawyers will determine whether or not it has jurisdiction to decide if the lawsuit against Chevron violates trade agreements between the US and Ecuador. Given that each of these lawyers stands to make as much as $3 million in legal fees for their part in the arbitration process, you can guess which way they’re likely to rule.
Merriam-Webster defines a kangaroo court as “a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted.” That pretty neatly sums up the latest forum Chevron is seeking to use to deny justice to the Ecuadoreans suffering from its oil pollution.
The Ecuadorean plaintiffs, needless to say, are not party to these hearings. But that doesn’t mean they’re staying silent. And neither are we.
Humberto Piaguaje of the Secoya people and Guillermo Grefa of the Kichwa people traveled here as representatives of the affected communities in Ecuador to speak out against the illegitimate arbitration process Chevron is pursuing. They’ve got a full agenda:
- This morning we held a press conference at Public Citizen’s offices. Lori Wallach of Public Citizen, Robert Collier of Amazon Watch, and Aaron Page, a US lawyer for the Ecuadorean plaintiffs, joined Umberto and Guillermo to provide the larger context of corporate abuse of the international arbitration process. Here’s the video (which we streamed live this morning):
- We’re conducting a briefing on Capitol Hill this afternoon and a teach-in about “How Corporations Use International Arbitration to Threaten Water, Health, Human Rights and Democracy” at American University tonight (Horacio Grigera Naon, director of the Center On International Arbitration at AU, is being paid by Chevron to represent the company in the arbitration hearing). Details and RSVP about the teach-in are here. We’ll also be live streaming the teach-in here.
- We’ll be holding a protest tomorrow outside the building where the arbitration panel is meeting, then marching to the offices of King and Spalding, one of the law firms representing Chevron that specializes in international arbitration. (If you’re in the DC area and want to join us, you can find the details here).
Essentially, what Chevron is trying to do with these arbitration hearings is force the government of Ecuador to pay to clean up the company’s mess — in other words, Chevron is trying to force the taxpayers of Ecuador to clean up its mess. We’re talking about a company that made $240 billion in revenues last year trying to dump responsibility for its mess onto the Ecuadorean people, who make an average of $4,000 per year.
As Lori Wallach put it: Given that the Ecuadorean plaintiffs are also taxpayers, it’s a little like condemning a man to death by firing squad, then sending his family a bill for the bullets.
Resorting to this arbitration process is a new low even for Chevron. The panel of three arbitrators — all private sector lawyers — meet in secret. The enormous amount of money they stand to earn in legal fees greatly incentivizes them to assert “jurisdiction” over any claim, regardless of how trivial or abusive. Members of the panel claim the outrageous power to override decisions of any public court system of any sovereign nation, while the arbitration rules prohibit third parties who are the most affected, such as the Ecuadorean plaintiffs, from being represented on the panel.
In other words, after being outsmarted by the Ecuadorean plaintiffs’ lawyers in both Ecuadorean and American courts, Chevron is now essentially looking to a private and secretive arbitration process where it doesn’t have to face the opposition. This arbitration panel is nothing more than a kangaroo court that violates any notion of due process and disregards the fundamental human rights of thousands of Ecuadoreans impacted by Chevron’s reckless pursuit of profits.
How did we get here? Here’s a quick review of the case:
In February 2011 an Ecuadorean court found Chevron guilty of dumping some 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste in the Amazon and ordered the company to pay $18 billion to clean up its mess. In January 2012 an appeals court upheld the ruling. (Chevron is appealing to Ecuador’s Supreme Court.)
The lawsuit was originally filed in a US federal court in 1993, but Chevron had the case moved to Ecuador, promising to abide by the ruling that came out of Ecuador’s courts. In reality, moving the trial to Ecuador was just another step in Chevron’s abusive endless litigation strategy. Once it became clear that the company was going to lose the case — due to the fact that even its own documents contain overwhelming evidence that the company is guilty as charged — Chevron returned to the US federal court in NY where the case was originally filed, seeking an injunction against enforcement of the Ecuadorean verdict.
The company found a US federal judge willing to issue a “worldwide injunction” against enforcement of the Ecuador verdict, but that victory was short-lived, as the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York threw it out altogether.
The way is now cleared for the Ecuadorean plaintiffs to attempt to enforce the judgment in countries where Chevron has assets. Hence Chevron’s desperate, last-ditch attempt to find a venue where due process and equal representation before the law have no place. The company is apparently willing to stoop to any low in order to evade justice in Ecuador.