Oil companies get a bad reputation. Whenever people talk about those “damn corporations” chances are they are referring to oil companies. However, they are also an integral part of the economy, if not the most integral part of the economy: they provide the energy that quite literally fuels the world.
But despite their importance to the global economy, the “supermajor” oil companies don’t have exactly sterling reputations when it comes to pollution, human rights, or general corporate responsibility. And that’s because they aren’t environmentally friendly, violate human rights around the world consistently, and often show a lack of corporate responsibility.
Obviously, supermajor oil companies aren’t the only corporations marred with controversy or engendering resentment and disdain from the general public. However, they are the most visible and the most targeted. We here at equities.com thought it would be interesting to dig into the crimes committed by the supermajors, and find the oil company that’s the “best of the worst.”
For the purposes of this list, we’ve decided to focus on the six supermajor oil companies which are often referred to as “Big Oil:” Total S.A. ($TOT), Royal Dutch Shell ($RDS-B), British Petroleum (BP) , ConocoPhillips ($COP), ExxonMobil (XOM) , and Chevron (CVX) . The list starts with the worst oil company (in terms of ethical transgressions) and ends with the best.
When it comes to outward disregard for corporate responsibility, human rights, and environmental preservation, ExxonMobil takes the prize for worst offender. Someone could easily write a book about all of ExxonMobil’s nefarious endeavors around the world.
For the purposes of this article, the highlights will have to suffice. First off, they have a terrible record in environmental affairs. Among all corporations, they are the 6th highest contributor of airborne pollutants. They have had 6 oil spills in the last 25 years, including the highly publicized Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in 1989.
In addition, ExxonMobil has been accused of serious human rights violations. In 2001, a lawsuit was brought against them for knowingly assisting human rights violations that include torture, murder, and rape when they employed and provided material support to Indonesian military forces. As of yet, the lawsuit has not been resolved.
Finally, when Exxon and Mobil merged in 1999, the company rescinded anti-discrimination policies that protected the rights of the LGBT community. The Human Rights Campaign rated ExxonMobil as the worst company for equal protection. ExxonMobil shareholders have also voted down proposals to reinstitute anti-discrimination policies for LGBT employees 17 different times.
5) British Petroleum
Had this list have been put together prior to April 2010, BP may have been the “best” oil company on it, but the way they handled the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was horrifying, to say the very least.
First off, the explosion killed 11 people and injured 16 others. BP pled guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter and agreed to pay $4.5 billion in fines because they failed to adequately seal an exploratory well, which caused the explosion to begin with. They also pled guilty to lying to Congress when they initially tried to cover up exactly how much oil was leaking from their well.
BP’s most egregious violation stemmed from its use of Corexit to deal with the oil spill. BP told the public that Corexit was as harmless as dishwashing soap knowing full well that Corexit is a carcinogen linked to cancer. In the wake of the cleanup, workers were exposed to the combination of Corexit and crude oil. On top of that BP apparently told their workers not to wear any respirators because it looked bad to reporters. Anyone who came in contact with Corexit and oil should have been wearing a proper HAZMAT suit. Thousands of people in the Gulf now suffer from severe symptoms such as blood in urine, heart palpitations, kidney damage, liver damage, migraines, skin lesions, respiratory system damage, muscle spasms, seizures, and temporary paralysis.
Even though the catastrophic oil spill happened over four years ago, the behavior by BP has ensured the continued suffering of the residents in the Gulf.
4) Royal Dutch Shell
The next one on our list is the Netherlands-based Royal Dutch Shell. The company is particularly well known for (or should be well-known for) their ethically questionable affairs in Africa.
Niger-Delta has been ravaged by extreme environmental catastrophes like oil spills. Shell’s pipelines that run through the Niger-Delta are old and corroded. These pipes have often times burst and led to oil spills that have destroyed local vegetation and fishing. Shell has consistently denied responsibility for the environmental disasters and this has led to mass protests from inhabitants of Niger-Delta as well as a boycott from organizations like Amnesty International.
In Nigeria in 1996, Shell was accused of collaborating with the government in the execution of nine Ogoni tribe leaders. Shell settled a lawsuit brought against them with $15.5 million payout in 2009, but still denies involvement in the murders.
In 2010 per Wikileaks, information surfaced that Shell had inserted its own staff into various Nigerian ministries. The top executive for Shell in Nigeria claimed to know everything being done in those ministries. Similarly, documents released in 2009 show that Shell routinely paid the Nigerian military to suppress protests against the company’s actions.
3) Total S.A.
The next company is Total S.A., the French multinational oil company. Total has had its share of controversies, mostly in the bribery department.
In 2008, 11 executives of the Italian division of Total S.A. were arrested on a 15 million Euro corruption charge. In April 2010, Total S.A. was accused of bribing Iraqi officials under Saddam Hussein’s regime. The French oil company also bribed an Iranian official with $60 million to gain access to oilfields in Iran. The Department of Justice and Total S.A. settled in 2013 for $398 million in fines.
In terms of human rights violations, Total S.A. invested in Myanmar despite the EU’s sanctions against the military dictatorship. French and Belgian courts have filed lawsuits against Total S.A. for condoning the use of civilian slavery to construct an oil pipeline.
Coming in at second on our list of best/least evil oil companies is Chevron. This doesn’t mean they haven’t had their share of controversy. It just means that relatively speaking, they have been pretty good. For example, Chevron had a class action lawsuit filed against them in 2003 from the Ecuadorian government for environmental damages and human rights violations. Ecuadorian citizens were demanding $28 billion in damages.
The lawsuit was settled in Ecuador in 2011 and Ecuadorian residents were awarded $8.6 billion, but Chevron never paid it. They said the claim was outrageous and unfounded. And the United States agreed with them. In March of 2014, a United States district court judge ruled that the Ecuador’s lead attorney used corrupt and coercive practices to attain the 2011 court verdict.
In terms of other damaging environmental acts, Chevron has also violated the United States Clean Air Act, spilled oil off of the coast of Angola, spilled oil off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, caused a forest fire in Bangladesh, and may have caused water contamination in Romania after a gas explosion.
These are all relatively minor things though compared to some of the actions taken by Chevron’s competitors.
And finally, the best/least evil company on our list is ConocoPhillips. The American oil company is number one on our list purely because their scandals aren’t as serious nor are they as frequent.
In 2003, Green Alternative sued them for collusion with the Georgian government. Supposedly, ConocoPhillips attempted to bribe and coerce authorities in Georgia to approve a $3 billion pipeline without properly evaluating the environmental impact on the country. In 2011, they were also responsible for an oil spill in the Bohai Bay off the coast of China.
ConocoPhillips has had no major human rights violations though and that sets them apart from their competitors.
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