To Harm Big Oil, Lefty Unions Align With Human Rights Abusers

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You don't often hear Canada and Ecuador mentioned in the same breath, but the left's fight to smear big corporations over alleged abuses sometimes makes strange bedfellows.

It started when Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001. Texaco had been previously active in Ecuador and worked with the Ecuadorian government to mitigate and clean up its drilling sites, at a cost of $40 million to Texaco. Texaco fulfilled this clean-up to the Ecuadorian government's satisfaction and was legally released from any liability.

Years later and after the Chevron acquisition, however, Ecuador colluded with environmental activists to coordinate a $19 billion (later reduced to $9 billion) judgment against Chevron for alleged contamination by Texaco of the Ecuadorian jungle. Ecuador and the radical environmental group Amazon Watch teamed up with American lawyer Steven Donziger, whose shady tactics, combined with a lack of judicial independence in Ecuador, resulted in a multi-billion dollar judgement against Chevron. Interestingly, there was never a lawsuit against or criticisms of PetroEcuador, the nationalized oil company that partnered with Texaco in Ecuador, taking over operations in the early 90's and which is responsible for well over 1,000 spills in the region since 2000.

Chevron fought back, bringing a private RICO action in the U.S. against Donziger and his collaborators. Back on U.S. soil, a court blocked the judgment from being enforced in the U.S., finding that Donziger and company committed "egregious fraud" and nailing him with a long list of crimes, including "committing mail and wire fraud, money laundering, witness tampering and obstruction of justice."

You'd think a U.S. federal court's severe and decisive ruling against Donziger and the Ecuadorian activists would put the matter to rest, but it hasn't. Despite the Donziger debacle, the Canadian affiliate of the Union of Food and Commercial Workers, a prominent leftist union, has now jumped headfirst into the propaganda campaign against Chevron.

Amid great fanfare by Ecuadorian officials, UFCW leaders recently traveled to Ecuador, enjoying favorable coverage by the state-run media. It's the latest play in a state-run PR campaign that has brought international journalists and foreign politicians to Ecuador to promote the case. And if that weren't enough, the Washington Free Beacon also found that the government of Ecuador had a $6 million contract with a New York-based PR firm to bring B-list celebrities like Mia Farrow and Danny Glover, covering the cost of their travels and junkets.

The UFCW clearly has little affection for large, profitable companies, but by getting swept up into Ecuador's fabricated narrative of corporate abuse, it's picking the wrong fight. The union bills itself as "Canada's leading and most progressive union" committed to promoting and protecting "employee rights and social justice," yet in Ecuador it has allied itself with convicted fraudsters and a government that shows little regard for democracy and freedom. We're talking about a case in which investors - and even the plaintiff's' own experts - have renounced the evidence and abandoned it. It's a case that the Wall Street Journal has called the "legal fraud of the century."

It gets worse for the UFCW than not having a legal leg to stand on, however. Ecuador has an abysmal record on social justice and human rights under President Rafael Correa - especially on press freedom and the open spread of information. The Human Rights Foundation has condemned Ecuador's "Systematic Restrictions on Press Freedom," and Human Rights Watch has raised concerns about Correa's repeated attempts to interfere with Ecuador's judiciary - an important criticism in the face of the case against Chevron. As an example of its disregard for both justice and the press, in 2012 the Correa administration sentenced the directors of the newspaper El Universo to prison and fined the paper $40 million (enough to bankrupt it) after it published stories critical of Correa, and there is evidence that Correa's lawyer effectively wrote the judgment against El Universo for the judge. Though the paper was later pardoned, the administration has continued to hit the paper with fines cracking down on free expression.

Members of the UFCW, especially in the U.S., should call on leadership to question why they would align themselves with a fraudulent case bolstered by an unsavory, human rights-abusing government. It goes against the very principles they claim to advance.


Eric Telford is president of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.   

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