The Crowd Claims
The lawsuit against Chevron by the Amazon people raises two fundamental questions for the Canadian court to decide:
(1) Should justice prioritize human rights over the interests of transnational corporations?
(2) Should justice require the polluter to pay for damage to the environment and the people?
If your answer is positive, then please support the struggle of these Ecuadorian communities by helping them achieve access to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Their victory will be your victory.
Join us in supporting this case
In 2013, the National Court of Justice of Ecuador ordered Chevron Corp. to pay US $9.5 billion in order to restore the 1,850 square miles (4,800 sq. km.) of polluted ground and waters in the Amazon rainforest and to establish an extensive health program for the more than 30,000 indigenous people affected.
The highest court in Ecuador thereby confirmed the two previous state court decisions from 2011 and 2012. The restitution judgment found that pollution was caused due to the use of inadequate and obsolete oil extraction methods by Texaco between 1964 and 1990, including the deliberate disposal of toxic waste and crude oil in the Ecuadorian rainforest. This environmental disaster is one of the most important in the world. The lands, the waters, and the entire ecosystem were severely damaged. In the years since, the local Amazon people have had to deal with serious diseases, some leading to deaths, at a much higher rate than the rest of the country. They organized themselves into a community-based organization called UDAPT, for the Spanish acronym of la Unión de Afectados y Afectadas por las Operaciones Petroleras de Texaco, or those affected by the oil extraction methods of Chevron-Texaco.
This oil giant Chevron, formerly Texaco, promised to submit to the judgments of the Ecuadorian courts. However, after lengthy trial and appeals processes, Chevron-Texaco refused to pay for damages from the Ecuador judgment. Instead, the transnational threatened UDAPT people with pursuing them until “hell freezes over.”
Given that Chevron-Texaco withdrew all of its assets from Ecuador, the UDAPT-plaintiffs have sought enforcement of the Ecuadorian verdict in other countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Canada, where the oil company has assets. Chevron forced the affected communities to engage in endless judicial battles. Twenty-five years of litigation have passed while poisons continue to spread in Amazonian lands and rivers causing disease and worse among its inhabitants.
Additionally, Chevron Corporation started a legal action for protection with the Constitutional Court of Ecuador in order to have the Ecuadorian verdict nullified. After four years of waiting, this demand has finally been dismissed on 10 July 2018. This ends any other possibility of an appeal by Chevron in Ecuador. Chevron can no longer pretend that the judgment is not executable in other countries, such as Canada, on the ground that the process in Ecuador is not terminated.
Legal Progress 1
During the appeal proceedings, several elements worthy of legal note were asserted:
In 2015, the seven judges of the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously agreed that the Ecuadorian plaintiffs may seek recognition and enforcement of the Chevron judgment in Canada. Another important element in this decision was that the judges found that this case brings up new legal approaches: “There is no doubt that the legal arguments asserted by the appellants are innovative and untested, especially with regard to piercing the corporate veil.”
In particular, in the decision of 31 October 2017, the judges of the Court of Appeal of Ontario acknowledged that the case represents public interest litigation, as the UDAPT-plaintiffs are not seeking direct economic compensation and will proceed with the collective repair of lands and rivers through a trust.
They also found that damage from the oil pollution has seriously harmed the ability of the Amazon indigenous people to earn their livelihood.
However, in the decision of May 2018, other interpretations were reviewed. Some differences of interpretation of case law were revealed: while some judges declared that the subsidiaries are not legally part of the heritage of the parent company, another judge found this ownership “crystal clear” according to economic realities.
Legal Progress 2
Finally, this essential question remains of paramount importance: whether the interpretation of the jurisprudence should focus on the issue of efficiency or equity, which in layman’s terms means that either corporate interests or human rights will take precedence over the other.
Therefore, the current debate turns on the question of whether the veil of the corporate personality that protects a corporation’s impunity should be lifted. This is a fundamental question about a transnational’s obligations to respect human rights and the environment in the Amazon and other parts of the world.
These are the reasons why the Chevron case has become emblematic for the fight against transnational impunity. More than 230,000 pages of legal documents from the twenty-five plus years of litigation illustrate almost all the obstacles set up by transnational corporations in order not to be held accountable for their environmental crimes and human rights violations.
Back in 2015, these Supreme Court of Canada judges considered this case to deserve a more generous and liberal approach, perhaps to adapt more to the present economic realities and corporate structures. This position makes it possible to hope that this court may issue a historic judgment, lifting the veil protecting transnational corporations and preventing them from polluting the planet and its inhabitants with impunity.
However, the Court of Appeal has ordered the affected indigenous people and peasants to pay CAD $350,000 (230,000 euros) to access the highest court of law in Canada.
It would be unacceptable for the trial to end for lack of financial means.
And while Chevron has spent several hundreds of millions of US dollars not to pay for remediation, the Amazon people are still struggling to sustain themselves. This asymmetry clearly constitutes an obstacle to access to justice and illustrates its basic lack of equity. Otherwise, the trial of the UDAPT will end in Canada, even though they have good prospects for collecting the entire amount of the award in this country to begin the reparation of their lands.
Next Legal Action
The UDAPT people do not seek personal economic compensation; they seek collective reparation for their people’s health and lands.
They wish to enforce the Ecuadorian judgment in Canada and seize Chevron Canada’s assets by successfully having the court recognize that Chevron Canada’s shares and assets are wholly owned by Chevron Corporation and, therefore, that Chevron Canada can (and should) be held liable for the parent company’s debts to the Amazonian communities of Ecuador.
On 23 May 2018, after 6 years of litigation in Canada, the Court of Appeal of Ontario dismissed the Ecuadorian claim and ordered the UDAPT-plaintiffs to pay Canadian $350,000 (about 230,000 euros) in order to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The outcome of this trial at the Supreme Court level will be a landmark decision at the international level in the fight against corporate impunity. In order to enforce a judgment against a transnational corporation, it is crucial for the victims to be able to access the assets of a transnational company, including those of its subsidiaries.
If the UDAPT-plaintiffs cannot pay, their lawsuit in Canada will end.
Although they have good prospects for collecting the entire amount of the award in this country to begin the reparation of the social, cultural, and environmental damages caused by Chevron, this is your chance to step in and help the UDAPT-plaintiffs pay for the legal fees to access justice.
Background and Nonprofit
The UDAPT is an Ecuadorian community-based organization that works with The Crowd Versus to secure funding for this case. The UDAPT represents more than 30,000 farmers (paisanos) and indigenous people of six nations (Ai’Cofan, Kichwa, Huarani, Shuar, Siekopai, and Siona) affected by the environmental disaster caused by Chevron-Texaco and legally represents them in their lawsuit against the oil giant.