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Chevron's Bait and Switch: HIV Funding Does Not Erase Human Rights Abuses

December 19, 2012

Chevron's Bait and Switch: HIV Funding Does Not Erase Human Rights Abuses. Image from

Image from

Correction: Chevron owes the Ecuadorian people and government $18 BILLION, not $18 million. A thousand thanks to the HIV/AIDS activists who brought this to my attention. -- SB

Yesterday I happened upon an advertisement for a Chevron campaign called "AIDS is Going to Lose," which featured photos of people (actors, models?) of all ages and backgrounds holding up signs reading the campaign's tagline: "AIDS is Going to Lose."

This ad immediately brought me back to this year's International AIDS Conference, where thousands conference volunteers were wearing yellow t-shirts that had Chevron's logo (among many other corporations) printed on the back. As a newcomer to the IAC, I was surprised by the conference's saturation in corporate sponsorship, from the lanyards branded by Bristol Myers Squibb, Gilead Science's platinum or super-gold or super-super-gold sponsorship, to what appeared to be Chevron's odd presence on said t-shirts.

But as I have quickly learned, corporate involvement in HIV/AIDS issues has become the norm, albeit in perplexing and surreptitious ways.

Returning to Chevron and their "AIDS is Going to Lose" campaign, I'm not convinced that this massive oil company's HIV/AIDS funding should be celebrated when they are responsible for a number of human rights abuses across the globe.

Let's start with Ecuador. Amnesty International reports that from 1972-1992, Texaco (now owned by Chevron) dumped 19 billion gallons of toxic oil wastewater into the Oriente region, and is responsible for 16.8 million gallons of crude oil spilling into the region's drinking water. (To paint the picture, the Exxon-Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons of oil). This contamination stands in violation of "International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights," which states that people have the right to "an adequate standard of living and to water and sanitation."

After nine years and a trial that generated "220,000 pages of 100 expert reports, testimony from dozens of witnesses, 54 court-supervised inspections, independent health evaluations, and reams of legal argument," an Ecuadorian Appeals Court found Chevron guilt of:

  1. adopting sub-standard practices to cut production costs and that resulted in the largest and most disastrous oil spill in history
  2. "flagrantly" violating multiple Ecuadorian laws, its own contractual obligations, and oil industry standards
  3. causing massive environmental damage to an area the size of Rhode Island that "for decades will create a myriad of health risks for thousands of rainforest inhabitants unless there is a comprehensive cleanup."

And how has Chevron proceeded since?

By dissolving its assets in Ecuador and refusing to pay the Ecuadorian court ruling of $18 BILLION worth of damages, drawing the ire of human rights activists across the globe, as well as Chevron's own shareholders, who have criticized Chevron CEO John Watson for refusing to pay. This lack of payment on behalf of Chevron continues to this very day.


We could also talk about the recent fire at the Chevron Plant in Richmond, CA, and the company's refusal to talk to Mayor Gayle McLaughlin about the harmful hydrocarbons that were released and their potentially lethal effects on the health of residents, and how they were forced to stay indoors for forty-eight hours with doors and windows closed to avoid inhaling these harmful toxins.

And the real kicker?

The demographic of Richmond, according to Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, is poor, people of color, who have historically been silenced when they have been abused or exploited by corporations.

As humans, as parents, siblings, friends, lovers, partners, and advocates, we have the right -- if not the requirement -- to be skeptical of Chevron's specious HIV/AIDS funding when it has continually demonstrated a lack of concern and plain humanity for other people across the globe.

As such, I would disagree with Leon Kaye's exceedingly saccharine analysis of Chevron's "AIDS is Going to Lose" campaign. Kaye, who writes for, cites Chevron's 100% mark by the HRC's "Corporate Quality Index" as evidence of the company's goodwill and its corporate values, and that the company's decision to fund HIV/AIDS issues is due to the company's stakeholders, who expect Chevron "to use some its revenue to make a difference on public health within the countries in which it conducts business."

But Kaye's arguments fall short. For one, Chevron doesn't value the input or asks of its stakeholders as Kaye depicts, for in May 2012, 38% of stakeholders have asked CEO Watson to step down, AND for Chevron to pay the $18 billion in damages they caused in Ecuador. And has either happened? Nope. So Chevron and its stakeholders, then, are not nearly as heard or valued as Kaye depicts.

Secondly, the fact that Chevron has scored a 100% approval rating by HRC is completely irrelevant. According to Kaye's logic, we should excuse Chevron's human rights abuses because they are cognizant of LGBT issues in the workplace. But how does this erase or excuse the blatant human rights abuses across the globe? How can we in good conscience applaud Chevron's HIV/AIDS funding when it has no regard for the basic daily living needs of the affected communities in Ecuador, Richmond, or Nigeria?

Indeed, according to Kaye's non-argument, we ought to only be concerned about Chevron's corporate practices if the people affected are LGBT or living with HIV/AIDS, which then, and seemingly only then, would Chevron's funding of HIV/AIDS be contradictory or patently false.

But as our mentors, both past and present, have taught us, human rights and social justice does not and cannot exist in a vacuum. Questions about power and who is vulnerable, exploited, marginalized, or silenced simply cannot be addressed by examining race, class, gender, or sex as mutually exclusive. As people living with HIV/AIDS and their activists and advocates, we know that issues about the disease are imbued with questions about race and class. We know that we can't end the disease without also addressing why communities of color are adversely affected by HIV/AIDS and the challenges they face when trying to secure stable and affordable housing. We know that we can't end the disease without also addressing how the ability to pay for meds is imbued with notions of class, race, and financial access.

We cannot commend Chevron's HIV/AIDS funding while remaining mum on the company's disregard for other vulnerable lives, including indigenous, impoverished communities.

Chevron inserted itself into this conversation, and I believe it is up to us, to continue it and steer it toward a resolution that respects all lives, including those affected by HIV/AIDS as well as those Chevron has brazenly disregarded.

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This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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