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Ian Gary

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Will Chevron Heed the Call for Transparency?

Posted: 05/25/10 05:05 PM ET

Hundreds of Chevron shareholders will descend upon Houston this week to participate in the oil company's annual general meeting. In the past year, we've seen the Huffington Post cover the oil industry and how it affects consumers -- from the rise and fall of volatile gas prices to the most recent devastating Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Reading these stories, we can see how this billion-dollar industry has benefited Americans with jobs and fuel to heat their homes and run their cars.

But the oil spill has us wondering, what about the adverse effects of the oil industry itself? Who truly benefits from its riches and who suffers the consequences of exploitation?

Many communities along the Gulf Coast are yet again facing a threat to their livelihood as oil spreads across the ocean and begins polluting the shoreline. The spill shows us just how dearly local people and the environment can pay for the consequences of nearby oil projects that provide little local benefit. We must stand with these communities to support their right to a full recovery -- first from Katrina and now from an oil company.

But if corporate neglect and inadequate government response is the story line in the United States, what about the communities overseas that have little or no support from their governments? In 2008, Chevron paid more than $40 billion in taxes to governments around the world. At the same time, more than half of the world's poorest people live in countries rich in oil and mineral resources, including many countries where Chevron operates. Vulnerable communities are dealing with the environmental and social effects of oil and mining projects, but they are often not benefiting from the revenues coming into their country.

Managed properly, oil revenues can contribute to economic growth and poverty reduction. However, history has shown that oil company payments to governments are often kept secret, leading to embezzlement, corruption, and revenue misappropriation, which in many cases, has prevented oil revenues from contributing to economic development in these countries. This is a tragic paradox that must be addressed.

Americans have a stake in seeing oil wealth overseas used well. In countries such as Nigeria, grievances over corruption and environmental degradation have led to protests and conflict. American oil workers have been kidnapped, and last year, one million barrels of oil were not produced because of instability in the Niger Delta. This means lost energy and lost jobs for many Americans.

The shareholder meeting in Houston is an opportunity to help shed some light on secrecy in the oil industry. A group of shareholders filed a proposal with Chevron calling for a policy of publicly disclosing payments made to governments where the company operates. By publishing this information, Chevron would promote the rights of citizens in oil-rich countries by providing them with vital information, so they could hold their governments accountable for using these revenues for essential services like jobs, education, and healthcare.

Chevron can be a leader in the oil industry by supporting transparent and accountable practices that would not only help these vulnerable communities, but also protect company investments and stabilize energy prices for consumers. This effort would go a long way toward improving Chevron's relations with host communities and, in the long run, strengthening Chevron's capacity to obtain legal and social "license to operate."

Unfortunately, Chevron management has failed to recognize the benefits of being a leader on payment disclosure and advised shareholders to vote against the shareholder proposal. We encourage Chevron shareholders to join us in support of transparency to break the cycle of secrecy that has undermined development, democracy, and human rights for decades.

For more information about Oxfam America's work to promote transparency in the oil, gas, and mining industry, visit www.oxfamamerica.org/rights-resources.