When will the Oil Corporate Rules the World?

Kanbawza Win
May 18, 2010

As BP's (British Petroleum) fire-ravaged, sunken offshore rig and the ruptured well gushing a reported 210,000 gallons of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, it brought home to the Americans the fact of how huge oil companies can cajoled the people and destroyed the world. But the most important story involving Big Oil companies is that shatters not only the environment but the essential First Amendment Rights of Journalists to tell truth and shame the devil.

After the surviving, dazed and frightened workers were evacuated from that burning platform, they were met by lawyers from the drilling giant Transocean with forms to sign stating they had not been injured and had no first-hand knowledge of what had happened? Since the 1908 discovery of oil in present-day Iran, B P a London based multinational has been a leading player in the global energy market and is the world's third-largest energy company, behind Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell is now celebrating its centennial

Leave alone BP, Chevron had also posed a major threat to independent journalism. Federal Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ordered documentary producer and director Joe Berlinger to turn over to Chevron more than 600 hours of raw footage used to create a film titled Crude: The Real Price of Oil about the true epic story of how 30,000 Ecuadorians rose up to challenge the pollution of their bodies, livestock, rivers and wells from drilling for oil there, a rainforest disaster that has been described as the Amazon's Chernobyl. Chevron is trying to avoid responsibility in fending off potential damages of $27.3 billion. This is a serious matter for reporters, filmmakers and frankly, everyone else. Tough, investigative reporting without fear or favor - already under siege by severe cutbacks and the shutdown of newspapers and other media outlets which is vital to the public awareness and understanding essential to a democracy.

In a 1905 speech before the Harvard Ethical Society, Brandeis said, "Instead of holding a position of independence, between the wealthy and the people, prepared to curb the excesses of either, able lawyers have, to a large extent, allowed themselves to become adjuncts of great corporations and have neglected the obligation to use their powers for the protection of the people."Now, more than a century later, Chevron, the third largest corporation in America, according to Forbes magazine, has hauled out their lawyers in a case that would undermine the right of journalists to protect the people by telling them the truth.

In Burma, over the last twenty years, Chevron, TOTAL of France, and PTTEP of Thailand have made hundreds of millions, if not billions, in undisclosed payments to the ruling military Junta, financing an undemocratic band of generals accused of Crimes Against Humanity. The overall gas profits, estimated at nearly $5 billion dollars from 2000-2008 alone, have provided the Burmese military regime a convenient shield from domestic democratic pressures, such as the 2007 Saffron Revolution, a peaceful monk-led uprising that was sparked in part by a dramatic rise in domestic gas prices. Chevron, Total, and PTTEP have in effect clearly undermined U.S. foreign policy toward Burma - a policy intended to promote democracy and human rights, not callous profiteering and overt repression.

A recent revelation is that the companies have lied about their ability to practice revenue transparency in Burma. Both Chevron and TOTAL have privately told shareholders they are contractually unable to be transparent in their payments to the Junta. In 2004, during the landmark lawsuit brought by Burmese villagers in U.S. courts against UNOCOL Corporation (now Chevron) for complicity in forced labor, torture, and killings along the Yadana pipeline, it became public but in no way do they restrict Chevron, TOTAL, or PTTEP from disclosing their payments to the Junta - past, present, and future.

TOTAL has privately claimed the contrary for years. Multiple shareholders have told ERI (Earth Rights International) that the company has claimed their contracts with the Junta are confidential, and the company has further claimed that contractual clauses prevent them from disclosing payments to the Burmese state. Even more recent information suggesting TOTAL's partner Chevron has likewise lied to its shareholders. Recently, it was discovered that a longtime Chevron shareholder - the manager of an investment firm - indicating that the American oil giant, which recently reported its largest profit increase in a decade, not only lied to him regarding the company's revenue opacity in Burma, but also to several investment firms, including the one he represents, and to two of America's largest labor unions. Chevron refused to be transparent in Burma, claiming their contract with the Junta prevented disclosure of any payment information to anyone, including the company's own investors. Like TOTAL, the company also claimed their contracts could not be shared.

The truth is that their contracts are available for the world to see, and have been for six years. According to ERI's Legal Director Marco Simons, "while these contracts do require the partners to keep confidential information that they have acquired from MOGE, nothing in them suggests that payments to the regime would qualify as confidential information, or even that the contracts themselves need to be kept confidential." In other words, Chevron and TOTAL lied. Perhaps they have copied this trade from the Junta whose norms is lying the very concept of truth.

Research indicates that developing states relying on gas and oil revenues are less accountable to their citizens politically and economically, which in turn fuels authoritarianism. Revenue transparency, on the other hand, promotes an open society. The positive development outcomes associated with revenue transparency in the extractive industries are clear and that transparency can also help with corruption control, which is particularly important in Burma, a country recently ranked by Transparency International as the third most corrupt in the world, behind Afghanistan and Somalia. But the bottom line is that the people of Burma have a right to know what Chevron, TOTAL, and PTTEP have paid the state for public resources.

Documentation of Chevron and Total's dishonesty and lack of revenue transparency in Burma is markedly different than the common criticisms waged against the companies. They usually boil under the spotlight for their complicity in forced labor, killings, and other abuses committed by the Burmese Army guarding their 40-mile long gas pipeline to Thailand, abuses we continue to document today. While revenue transparency will in no way absolve the companies of their responsibility for these ongoing abuses, it will be a critical step in the right direction.

Hypocritically, they already champion transparency. Both Chevron and TOTAL have in general acknowledged the potential for positive development outcomes through revenue transparency, and both companies in effect recognize that revenue secrecy is increasingly indefensible. Why else would they cite fabricated contractual restrictions as obstacles to transparency, rather than simply refuse in principle to practice it? In other words, their lies are the tribute vice pays to virtue. The yes or no question remains: will TOTAL, Chevron, and PTTEP do something positive for Burma and disclose details of their last 18 years of payments to the Junta?

Now the White House warned BP that it expects the oil giant to pay all damages associated with the disastrous oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico, even if the costs exceed the $75 million liability cap under federal law. We can safely assume BP’s lawyers are already at work to ensure that the firm pays not a cent more than $75 million — not to the American taxpayers bearing cleanup costs, not to consumers whose gas bills will rise, not to businesses along the coasts that will lose a fortune. Paradoxically it was just eight years ago BP began promoting itself as the environmentally-friendly oil company with a vision that went “Beyond Petroleum” to embrace solar cells and wind power. In $200 million advertising campaign its corporate brand insignia from a shield to the more wholesomely natural green, yellow, and white sunburst. BP’s chief executive, Lord John Browne, issued warnings about global warming and said the company had a social responsibility to take action. What lies were revealed when Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the oversight committee pointed out in the congress hearing “If one of the world’s most successful oil companies can’t do simple basic maintenance needed to keep the Prudhoe Bay field operating safely without interruption, maybe it shouldn’t operate the pipeline. I am even more concerned about BP’s corporate culture of seeming indifference to safety and environmental issues. And this comes from a company that prides itself in their ads on protecting the environment. Shame, shame, shame.”

The whole story is even BP now better known as Bad Petroleum and TOTAL whose budgets is more than the national budget of Britain and France respectively, where democracy and free press flourishes what can the poor people of Burma expects from these oil giants when they are hand in glove with the tyrannical Junta? Even though we can foresee that soon or later the oil corporate will take over their governments, as the word acquiesce to the system of exploitation of man by man, at least the people of the free world should know that the General than Shwe is laughing in his sleeves.

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