UDAPT calls for a “Global Minga” to campaign for an international treaty to hold corporate criminals accountable
In a recent Public Forum held in Amsterdam, representatives of the Union of People Affected by Texaco (UDAPT) from Ecuador began their Europe speaking tour with a call for a “Global Minga” to support a treaty that will sanction transnational corporations for their crimes and ensure access to justice for affected communities.
The environmental devastation caused by Texaco-Chevron
The UDAPT Campaign was established by indigenous peoples and peasants in the northern region of the Ecuadorian Amazon, which has been struggling for twenty-two years to bring justice for a massive environmental devastation and contamination caused by the oil company Texaco, later acquired and currently owned by the US oil giant Chevron.
According to Pablo Fajardo Mendoza, a lead lawyer on the UDAPT Chevron case, the company discharged 60 billion litres of toxic waste into the rivers of the Ecuadorian Amazon during their operations in Ecuador, which resulted in the contamination of approximately 500,000 hectares of rainforest reserve. In addition, Fajardo explained that “studies show that there are at least 2,000 people who have developed cancer that is attributable to the toxic waste of Texaco-Chevron”. According to Fajardo, “two groups of indigenous peoples have already been made extinct due to this contamination”.
Humberto Piaguaje Lucitante, an indigenous leader from the Siekopai community testified that Texaco-Chevron “destroyed the culture, wealth and worldview of spirituality” of indigenous people. “We consider that the land, water, soil and air have spirits and we respect them. And those spirits give us humans soul and energy”, he explains. “Wealth for us is not about money. For us, wealth is biodiversity, the wealth of nature. It cannot even be commodified or valued”. Piaguaje stresses that the destruction of the environment of their territory means “a terrible harm to our soul, our people and our ecological life. I believe it is a lack of respect by the company towards indigenous people”.
Twenty-two years of struggle and still no justice
The UDAPT has recently been encouraged by a very significant decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that UDAPT can sue Chevron in the Canadian courts to enforce the $9.5 billion USD verdict of the Ecuadorian Court in 2011. It signifies a major breakthrough in its epic quest for justice sustained over the last twenty-two years.
The UDAPT started its judicial struggle against Texaco in 1993, seeking to hold the Texaco-Chevron oil corporation accountable for its contamination of the Ecuadoran Amazon – home to indigenous peoples and communities. At first, they brought the case to New York, since the headquarters of Texaco is located there. Later in 2002, one year after Chevron merged with Texaco, the New York Court decided to move the case to Ecuador, as Chevron had strongly influenced the judges to do so. At that time, the company stressed that the Ecuadorian justice system was strong and transparent. They also promised that they would abide by its judgment. However, when the Ecuadorian court delivered its judgment in 2011 ordering Chevron to pay 8.6 billion USD to restore the environment of the contaminated areas, the company refused to comply with it, and now the damage is set at 9.5 billion USD. To this day, Chevron has not paid anything of what the Ecuadorian Court ruled– so the affected communities are forced to continue living in a heavily toxic environment.
Furthermore, Fajardo explains that “Chevron started a systematic attack against the State of Ecuador as well as against the victims”, which included an intense media campaign to promote a corrupt image of the Ecuadorian court system. Moreover, they launched a number of civil and criminal cases against some members of the UDAPT and their supporters. By doing so, “Chevron tried to show themselves as ‘victims’, while turning the real victims into ‘criminals’”. In addition, Chevron brought the case to international arbitration tribunals three times. In 2012, one of these attempts led to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ordering the Ecuadorian government to stop enforcement of the 2011 judgment.
In spite of all of these difficulties, the UDAPT Campaign is still striving to achieve justice. They have brought their case to courts in Canada, Brazil and Argentina, attempting to seize the assets of Chevron in these countries, in order to implement the 2011 judgment. They also submitted a communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2014, requesting the Court to open a criminal investigation against John Watson, the CEO of Chevron and other high-level officers for crimes against humanity, as they “have deliberately maintained - and contributed to the polluted environment on which the people of the Oriente region live and die every day”. At the Public Forum, Fajardo again stressed that “we have to do everything we can do to get justice, which is not yet achieved after twenty-two years”.
Call for a “Global Minga” for justice
Now, the UDAPT is calling for a “Global Minga” to demand a binding international instrument that holds transnational corporations directly accountable. “Minga is an indigenous expression that means all the people of the community work collectively for a common goal. According to Fajardo, if you try to build a road all by yourself, you cannot finish that work before you die. But if everyone participates, it can be built much faster. Likewise, if people around the world work together, we can build a better international justice system – “this is the reason we are calling for a “Global Minga” for justice”.
As evident in the UDAPT case, it is very difficult to hold transnational corporations accountable for their crimes with the existing human rights law. First, transnational corporations have accumulated unprecedented power in which States are often complicit. International economic treaties, including Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), often contribute to reinforce such power of corporations.
Furthermore, corporations benefit from their “transnational” character, using subsidiaries to avoid the parent company’s liabilities for their operations or they simply exiting from a country so that the government cannot touch them.
There is currently no binding international instrument that can hold corporations accountable. Existing International and regional human rights treaties bind only States or individuals and not corporations. In addition, existing “guidelines” or “principles” for corporations remain non-binding instruments and their implementation is largely dependent on the good will of the corporation.
Recognizing such architecture of impunity for transnational corporations from their own experience, the UDAPT is calling for a “Global Minga” to campaign for access to justice for affected communities. Fajardo explains that “this is our big challenge to demand a an effective international legal system in order to stop these corporate crimes”. Piaguaje also emphasizes this message - “this is our appeal to the international community… I don’t want anybody to go through such an experience like ours, that’s why we are here”.
In order to convey their message as well as to exchange their experiences with other frontline communities dealing with fossil fuel extraction and consequent contamination and toxification of the environment, the UDAPT representatives met with organisations in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Norway and Italy in November and December 2015. They also participated in several activities at the Peoples’ Climate Summit and the Climate Action Zone in Paris, and gave testimony at the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, where the role of frontline communities was acknowledged and appraised, as the guardians of the climate.