US/ECUADOR: New nonprofit uses Web to pressure Chevron

Publisher Name: 
San Francisco Chronicle

Retired retail executive Richard Goldman was astonished when he heard
about the $27 billion pollution lawsuit against Chevron Corp. in
Ecuador.

Astonished at the soil and water contamination surrounding Ecuador's
oil fields.

And astonished that he'd never heard of it before.

So Goldman, one of the founders of the Men's Wearhouse clothing
chain, has created a nonprofit group that will use social-networking
tools to spread word of the case and put pressure on Chevron.

The group, Ethos Alliance, will ask visitors to its Web site to tell
others about the issue, hoping that viral communication via the
Internet will reach people that news stories about the suit haven't.

The site will raise money for humanitarian relief projects in
Ecuador's oil patch, encouraging visitors to donate $5 apiece to build
a water treatment plant and buy medicine for a health clinic. The Web
site, www.ethosalliance.org, goes online today.

Ethos also will urge Chevron to settle the long-running lawsuit,
something the San Ramon company has vowed not to do. The suit was first
filed against Texaco, which pumped oil in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992,
and Chevron inherited the suit when it bought Texaco in 2001.

Issues beyond Chevron

Ethos plans to tackle other issues of corporate responsibility in
the future, uniting the alliance's online members with businesses
willing to join the cause. But for now, its focus is squarely on
Chevron.

"In the ideal world, this suit gets settled, and Chevron walks away
as the pillar of social responsibility," Goldman said. "They'd be the
company everyone else wants to be."

Whether Ethos will have an effect on the lawsuit is an open question.

Goldman doesn't want Chevron to perceive Ethos as part of the
opposition. But he first heard of the issue when he let friends throw a
party in his Tiburon home for several of the lawyers suing Chevron.
Goldman also said Ethos won't try to pressure Petroecuador - the
state-run oil company that now operates the oil fields - into cleaning
up the contamination in eastern Ecuador, a region known as the Oriente.
Chevron insists the pollution is Petroecuador's responsibility.

"We would welcome a constructive conversation with Mr. Goldman about
the humanitarian issues facing the people of the Oriente," said Dave
Samson, Chevron's general manager of public affairs. "We agree that
they confront real hardships due to Petroecuador's horrendous
environmental record and their abandonment by the government of
Ecuador. Unfortunately, Mr. Goldman's humanitarian campaign is
misdirected and should be aimed at the (Ecuadoran) government and its
national oil company."

Raised $250,000

Ethos is the latest example of social or political causes using
social networking to increase their reach. Earlier this year, a one-day
fundraising effort organized via Twitter collected $250,000 for
drinking water projects in the developing world. The event was called
the 2009 Twestival, a combination of "Twitter" and "festival."

"They have tremendous uptake if they can resonate with the audience
that spreads things by word of mouth," said Jeremiah Owyang, a social
media analyst with the Altimeter Group. He added that it's hard to know
which campaigns will take off and which won't.

"That's the magic everyone's trying to figure out," Owyang said.

To get started, Ethos has sent two employees on a road trip between
the Bay Area and Miami, stopping at colleges along the way to tell
people about the group and the Ecuador lawsuit. Students visiting the
Web site are encouraged to start Ethos chapters on their campuses.

'They'll have to settle'

Goldman said letting the lawsuit drag on merely prolongs the
suffering of people who don't have access to clean water or soil.
Chevron, he said, should focus on the humanitarian needs and settle.

"This suit will never go away," he said. "Chevron knows that. At some point, they'll have to settle."

AMP Section Name:Energy
  • 104 Globalization
  • 106 Money & Politics
  • 116 Human Rights
  • 182 Health
  • 183 Environment
  • 185 Corruption
  • 190 Natural Resources