Chevron Touts Social Responsibility
Sep. 29ChevronTexaco Corp., in "a brief update" for 2003, on Tuesday added new information to the corporate social responsibility report that it issued nearly a year ago, mixing disclosures of recent events and data with anecdotes about projects that showed the huge oil producer in a positive light.
Rhonda Zygocki, Chevron's vice president for health, environment and safety, said that the new but abbreviated document focused on items "that are important to stakeholders and that we had real progress in."
Areas of note in the 16-page document included community development spending in Angola, work against the spread of HIV and AIDS and efforts against climate change, she said.
In late 2003 Chevron issued a 56-page responsibility report and said that it planned "to publish a corporate responsibility report annually." Kellie McElhaney, a professor and director of the Center for Responsible Business at UC Berkeley's Haas Business School, said Chevron's decision not to issue a full-scale annual report this year represented "two backward steps for them.
"These reports typically are produced annually just like an annual (financial) report," she said. ChevronTexaco's approach also lacked the sense of transparency that has led other companies to issue detailed reports even when their performance failed to meet stated targets, McElhaney said.
Zygocki disputed that view of the company's effort. "I don't think it is a step back for us," she said. The shorter document "allowed us the flexibility to focus on" key social responsibility issues, she added.
Oil giants BP, which issued a 46-page "sustainability report" for 2003, and Royal Dutch/Shell have been pioneers in corporate responsibility reporting. The reporting efforts of ChevronTexaco and Exxon Mobil, the largest U.S. oil company, have some catching up to do, McElhaney said.
At its best, corporate responsibility reporting from oil companies shows the global environmental, political, cultural, economic and human footprints of a huge, profitable and strategic industry. Candid disclosure of corporate faults and misdeeds can serve as a basis for dialogue and negotiations between companies and their critics, supporters of corporate responsibility reporting say.
But some sections of Chevron's latest report read more like a press release than a responsibility report. It opens by noting Chevron's receipt of a corporate excellence award from the U.S. State Department. A full page is devoted to "advancing energy technologies," including a contract to build a hydrogen fueling station for AC Transit.
The meat of the responsibility report consists of measures of social and environmental events at the company in 2003. The tale of the tape shows progress in some areas and slippage in others.
The report also describes an agreement with the government of Angola to disclose bonuses paid for an oil concession, a measure sought by human rights groups as a means to end corruption and ensure broader distribution of oil revenue. The report mentions an environmental lawsuit being tried in Ecuador, but is silent on developments in a lawsuit pending in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco alleging human rights violations in Nigeria.
Tuesday's release of the ChevronTexaco report coincided with a threat by a Nigerian rebel group to attack production facilities in the impoverished Niger Delta region where ChevronTexaco and other companies extract energy supplies that flow to the United States and other industrialized countries.
Valerie Crissey, ChevronTexaco's corporate responsibility coordinator, said the new document reflected the company's ongoing commitment to reporting. "We're learning as we go," adjusting the approach based on feedback from interested parties, Crissey said. "We definitely look at what our peers are doing."
More extensive disclosure doesn't always translate into better results. While more thorough and clearly organized, BP's report disclosed that like Chevron it saw in greenhouse gas emissions rise and community investment decline in 2003. And unlike its American rival, BP saw increases in on-the-job fatalities and oil spills.
ON THE WEB: ChevronTexaco's update of its corporate responsibility report is available on the Web at www.chevrontexaco.com/cr_report/2003/
The number of work-related deaths at ChevronTexaco fell to 12 in 2003, down from 16 in 2002, in what was "ChevronTexaco's safest year ever in terms of recordable incidents."
Oil spills were cut to 26,500 barrels in 2003 from 54,700 in 2002.
Greenhouse gas emissions rose to 63.9 million tons in 2003, from 63.4 million tons in 2002 with the earlier figure adjusted from the previously reported 61 million to reflect a new accounting method.
Community development investments declined from $64 million in 2002 to $61 million in 2003, with more than half of that money allocated to North America.
In 2003 ChevronTexaco notes that it paid fines of $1 million for health and safety violations and $3.7 million for breaking environmental rules, including $2.7 million to settle a pair of lawsuits alleging that the company polluted water in Texas' Permian Basin. ChevronTexaco also agreed to a settlement with air quality regulators in the U.S. that will include a $3.7 million civil penalty.
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© 2004, Contra Costa Times, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.