Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

« Previous Post | Opinion L.A. Home | Next Post »

Scenes from Occidental shareholder meeting

May 2, 2008 | 11:59 pm

Occidental1_2 Depending on your perspective, Occidental Petroleum’s shareholder meeting in Santa Monica Friday was a celebration of historic financial achievments (profits are way up, the company ended 2007 with no debt and dividends just keep climbing) or, it was the scene of what is becoming a serious public relations irritation. Shortly before shareholders gathered, environmental activists in white hazmat suits picketed in front of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel chanting for Oxy to clean up the pollution they say it left in the Peruvian Amazon when it ended operations there about nine years ago.

Three tribal leaders from Peru had traveled days -- on foot, in canoes, by bus and airplane – to attend the meeting at the Fairmont Miramar and urge Oxy to clean up toxic waste from 30 years of operation. But even though the Achuar representatives’ requests were translated first into Spanish and then into English, it was clear that the demonstrators and Oxy execs, simply did not speak the same language.

Occidental2 The Achuar told Occidental Chairman and CEO Ray Irani that their parents and children were suffering and asked his company to help them. They promised to speak well of the company if it did. Actress Darryl Hannah asked Oxy officials to imagine their own children were suffering cadmium poisoning and to show compassion. Atossa Soltani, executive director of Amazon Watch, invited Irani and Oxy execs to come to Peru to see the damage first hand. After about the third pro-Peruvian speaker, Irani grew a bit testy saying, “We can’t keep listening to every guy that came up from Peru.”

Occidental3_2 The company did address activists concerns, in its own language. It wishes the Achuar well, a nofficial said, but Oxy has fulfilled its legal obligations to the satisfaction of the government of Peru. Its successor, the Argentine company Pluspetrol, is legally responsible for any contamination past or present. Furthermore, despite its requests for scientific proof that the Achuar are suffering health consequences related to its past operations, activists have not provided it, and lastly, officials told shareholders, the Peruvian’s suit had been dismissed by a Los Angeles Federal Judge.

So the Achuar pressed their case for what they thought was right and Oxy answered by defining the legal parameters of its obligations. Shortly after that the meeting ended. But rarely has a translator been so badly needed.

Comments ()