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Unocal lawsuit (re Myanmar)

Pipeline, By: SeanMack, Creative Commons

In 1996, a group of Myanmar residents filed a lawsuit against Unocal in US federal court. Plaintiffs allege Unocal was complicit in human rights abuses they suffered such as forced labour, murder, rape, and torture during the construction of a gas pipeline. The parties reached an out of court settlement in which Unocal agreed to compensate the plaintiffs and provide funds for programmes in Myanmar to improve living conditions of the people in the pipeline region. 


A group of Myanmar residents filed a lawsuit against Unocal in US federal court in 1996.  The plaintiffs alleged they had suffered human rights abuses such as forced labour, murder, rape and torture at the hands of the Myanmar military during construction of a gas pipeline, and that Unocal was complicit in these abuses.  Unocal and Myanmar’s military government were in a consortium for the pipeline’s construction.  The parties reached an out-of-court settlement in which Unocal agreed to compensate the plaintiffs and provide funds for programmes in Myanmar to improve living conditions and protect the rights of people from the pipeline region (the exact terms of the settlement are confidential).  This settlement was accepted by the court, and the case was closed on 13 April 2005.

Background materials
- “Tentative Settlement of ATCA Human Rights Suits Against Unocal”, Red Orbit, 24 Jul 2005
- “Tale of Rape and Murder on Burmese Pipeline Haunts US”, Andrew Gumbel, Independent [UK], 11 Dec 2003 [overview of case as of Dec 2003]
- Unocal: [PDF] “Background: The Yadana Pipeline and Activist Lawsuits”, 2 Dec 2003
- Unocal: “The story you haven’t heard about . . . The Yadana Project in Myanmar” [general information regarding Unocal’s activities in Burma]
- Center for Constitutional Rights (NGO representing plaintiffs): “Synopsis” [of Doe v. Unocal lawsuit]
- Earthrights International (NGO representing plaintiffs): “Doe v. Unocal” [background materials]

- Analysis:  [PDF] "The Unocal Settlement: Implications for the Developing Law on Corporate Complicity in Human Rights Abuses", Rachel Chambers, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University [Australia], in Human Rights Brief, Washington College of Law, American University Fall 2005 
- Analysis: “Unocal Announces It will Settle a Human Rights Suit: What is the Real Story Behind Its Decision?”, Anthony J. Sebok, Brooklyn Law School, in FindLaw’s Writ, 10 Jan 2005 
- Unocal: “The story you haven’t heard about . . . The Activists’ Lawsuits”, 4 Apr 2005 
- Center for Constitutional Rights: “Historic Advance for Universal Human Rights: Unocal to Compensate Burmese Villagers
- Earthrights International: "Court Denies Unocal's Efforts to Shift Responsibility for Human Rights Abuses [in Burma] to its Insurers", Lillian Manzella, 14 Jun 2006
- Earthrights International: Common Questions and Answers, 2 Apr 2005

Certain legal briefs filed in this case [from website of attorneys for plaintiffs, Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris and Hoffman LLP]

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29 April 2008

Watchdog group says Chevron complicit in Myanmar

Author: Michael Erman, Reuters

A human rights watchdog group on Tuesday accused Chevron Corp of complicity in human rights abuses along a natural gas pipeline in Myanmar in which it holds a stake and said Chevron could be sued. EarthRights International claimed in a report issued on Tuesday that Myanmar's army has in recent years committed serious abuses including rape and murder while providing security for the pipeline that moves gas from the Yadana gas field, located offshore in the Andaman Sea... Chevron said it strongly disagreed with the report. "The allegations of human rights abuses associated with the project are baseless," spokesman Kurt Glaubitz said in a statement. Yadana "helps meet the energy needs of people in the region, supports critical health, education and infrastructure programs, and serves as a positive influence in the country," he said... [also refers to Total, PTT, Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise]

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9 April 2008

$16 billion environmental lawsuit tests Chevron

Author: Kelly Hearn, Christian Science Monitor

The case filed by Ecuadorean indigenous groups is one of the largest environmental suits against an oil firm and could set a precedent. Chevron dismisses it as a 'charade.'... Richard Cabrera, a court-appointed expert...poured fuel on an epic environmental lawsuit filed by Ecuadorean indigenous groups against...Chevron-Texaco... Mr. Cabrera...recommended to an Ecuadorean judge last Tuesday that Chevron pay $8 billion to $16 billion for environmental damages if the company loses a bitterly contested case that started in 1993 with a lawsuit in New York courts, which ruled that the case should be tried in Ecuador... Chevron...attacked the report and its author. "We consider the report null and void because it is the result of irregular processes that do not conform with court orders," Ricardo Reis Veiga, managing counsel for Chevron Latin America, said in a telephone interview. [also refers to lawsuits against Unocal (now part of Chevron) re Burma, Chevron re Nigeria, Occidental re Peru]

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26 October 2007

Corporate Operations in Burma Fuel Human Rights Abuses, Say Shareowner Activists

Author: Bill Baue, Social Funds [USA]

Socially responsible investors (SRIs) and labor unions have recently sent letters to Chevron and Total urging them to speak out against human rights abuses performed by a regime financed largely by revenues from these oil companies... Now pressure is mounting on Norway’s Global Government Pension Fund...to reverse its decision not to divest from Total over human rights concerns in Burma... Simon Billenness, senior advisor for shareholder advocacy in the AFL-CIO’s Office of Investment...[said] “I see very little difference between the Chinese oil companies operating in Burma [such as CNOOC and PetroChina], and Chevron and Total”... [also refers to Unocal (now part of Chevron), Pepsico, Atlantic Richfield (Arco, now part of BP), Halliburton, Texaco (now part of Chevron)]

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10 October 2007

Ottawa should stop firms from working in genocide zones

Author: Janet Bagnall, Gazette [Canada]

Let's look at a single piece of the puzzle: corporate complicity in genocide. The complicity of transnational corporations looks, on the surface, as though it would be one of the simplest issues to resolve. The government of the state in which a corporation is based could, in theory, order that corporation to stop going along with, or actively participating in, genocidal acts in its operations abroad. But the reality is anything but simple...[refers to Talisman, Unocal (now part of Chevron)]

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27 September 2007

Analysis: Gas, oil get Myanmar off hook

Author: Siobhan Devine, United Press International

Despite international condemnation of the Myanmarese government, competition for oil and gas will likely limit pressure on it from China and others in the region. "A humanitarian catastrophe might shift Chinese behavior, but right now Beijing probably believes that access to Burma's energy potential and its strategic location still outweigh the political costs," said Roberto M. Herrera-Lim...at the Eurasia Group...“China ... (doesn't) interfere with a country where they have business...French and American oil companies are also in Burma. (Currently,) there’s very little pressure being put on them.”...Total and Unocal (now Chevron) made headlines in 1996 when Myanmarese nationals brought a case against Unocal for human-rights violations related to the Yadana Project... Cases were also brought against Total.

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23 July 2007

United States: Corporate Liability For Human Rights Abuses Goes On Trial

Author: Eric A. Savage & Michael G. Congiu, Littler Mendelson, P.C. on Mondaq

The extent of corporate liability for alleged human rights abuses committed abroad under the Alien Tort Claims Act is currently being tested in the Northern District of Alabama. The plaintiffs...allege that Alabama-based mining company Drummond Ltd. ("Drummond") was complicit in the murders of three union leaders at a Drummond-owned coal mine in Columbia. [T]he case presents a unique opportunity to test the extent of corporate liability under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA)…. Significantly, the Drummond case is the very first ATCA case to proceed to trial. [also refers to Unocal (now part of Chevron)]

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11 June 2007

Hey, We Just Fly the Planes [Alien Tort Claims Act & Valuation of Companies]

Author: Toby Shute, Motley Fool [USA]

The Alien Tort Claims Act…charges are heavy, and as an investor, it's one of the last things you want in your company's headlines…. The punitive results of [ATCA] trials have been mixed, but the risk to the reputation of a multinational firm facing an ATCA charge far outweighs any direct monetary damages….The takeaway here is not that market participants may be overlooking the business risks to government contract work. [refers to Shell, Unocal, Chevron, Boeing, SAIC, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics]

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15 May 2007

[DOC] Response by Occidental Petroleum to concerns raised about environmental & health impacts in Peru

Author: Richard S. Kline, Vice President Communications & Public Affairs, Occidental Petroleum

Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) has implemented sound, well-considered social responsibility programs to ensure the safety of our employees, maintain high environmental standards and support social programs... Oxy has not had production operations in Peru since 1999... At that time, Pluspetrol assumed all responsibility for past, present and future operating conditions in Block 1-AB...

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4 May 2007

Oil company accused of dumping waste in Amazon [Peru]

Author: Andrew Gumbel, Independent [UK]

[Occidental Petroleum] has been accused of contaminating…the Peruvian Amazon where it…[has] drilled for oil…creating misery for the local Achuar people and widespread lead and cadmium poisoning. A report issued by a coalition of protest groups…accused the company…of…dumping an estimated 9 billion barrels of toxic waste…directly into rivers and streams used by the Achuar…Occidental turned over the oilfield...to...Pluspetrol in 2000…but the report said the pattern of spillage and poisoning continued unabated… [also refers to Texaco, Unocal (both part of Chevron)]

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12 April 2007

United States: The Bottom Line - Corporate Social Responsibility Works, And Progressives Shouldn’t Abandon It

Author: Sarah Altschuller & Daniel Feldman, Foley Hoag [USA]

[A] successful company...must...take into account issues related to the activities of suppliers and business partners; national and local governments; international financial institutions; multilateral organizations; the media; educational institutions; and a wide spectrum of advocacy and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) including human rights, environmental, consumer, labor, and religious groups. Thus, [corporate social responsibility] is here to stay... [It] provides companies with an invaluable tool to manage the risks of the globalized marketplace, in part by meeting the concerns of these stakeholders. [refers to lawsuit regarding Burma against Unocal (now part of Chevron); also refers to Talisman, Wal-Mart]

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