Progressives Seek to
Call it 'A Dangerous Scofflaw Corporation'
By A.V. KREBS
Special to the Progressive Populist
"We're letting the people of California in on a well-kept legal secret.
The people mistakenly assume that we have to try to control these giant
corporate repeat offenders one toxic spill at a time, one layoff at a time,
one human rights violation at a time. But the law has always allowed the
attorney general to go to court to simply dissolve a corporation for wrongdoing
and sell its assets to others who will operate in the public interest."
With that charge Robert Benson, professor of law at Loyola Law School, Los
Angeles, announced at September 10 press conference in Los Angeles that
30 citizens' organizations, including the Alliance for Democracy, and individuals
were filing a 127-page petition seeking action by the California Attorney
General to revoke the charter of the Union Oil Company of California (Unocal).
"Baseball players and convicted individuals in California get only
three strikes. Why should big corporations get endless strikes? " Benson,
the lead attorney for the National Lawyers Guild's International Law Project
for Human, Economic and Environmental Defense (HEED) noted.
Petitions were delivered to California Attorney General Dan Lungren's Sacramento
office and, in simultaneous press conferences, to his representatives at
his Los Angeles and San Francisco offices. Lungren, a former congressmen
from California's 42nd district, is the current Republican Party nominee
for the state's governorship.
Other petitioning organizations include the National Organization for Women
(NOW), Rainforest Action Network, Global Exchange, Earth Island Institute,
Free Burma Coalition, the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy, Action
Resource Center, Amazon Watch, Asian/Pacific Gays and Friends, Burma Forum
of Los Angeles, Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County (California), No
Petro-Dollars for SLORC, Project Maje, Project Underground, Surfers' Environmental
Alliance, and the Transnational Resource and Action Center.
Individual petitioners include feminist attorney Gloria Allred, consumer
advocate and attorney Harvey Rosenfield, Santa Monica City Councilmember
Michael Feinstein, and Randall Hayes, president of Rainforest Action Network.
"This is the most substantial action by the American progressive-populist
movement to curb corporate domination of the world since the Alliance started
three years ago," Ronnie Dugger, founder and co-chair of the Alliance
for Democracy, told The Progressive Populist.
"We all owe Bob Benson a great deal for just sitting down and doing
the work and finding a way to pay for it (out of his own pro bono proceeds!)
and then bringing us in," Dugger said. "He is a quiet and a modest
person, so most of us didn't realize how important he is. He said to me
at some point during all this, 'I came to the conclusion some time ago that
things happen when someone does the work, so the point is to just do the
work.' He has done it--it's been a great honor for me and for the Alliance
to be some help to him on it--and as a result we are able to take a quantum
"We have spoken truth to power with competence and restraint and now--whether
power, including the major media, responds or tries, once again, to give
the truth the silent treatment--we will go straight to the people with this
truth," Dugger added.
Outraged over Unocal's business ties with the anti-woman Taliban militia
in Afghanistan and the military dictators of Burma, as well as over the
corporation's record as a "repeat offender" of environmental,
labor and deceptive practices laws and its "usurpation of political
power," petitioners ask that the attorney general call on a court to
revoke the company's charter, appoint a receiver, and wind up the corporation's
affairs "in order to fully protect jobs, workers, stockholders, unions,
communities, the environment, suppliers, customers, government entities,
and the public interest." (See "Summary of Ten-count Case Against
Unocal" at The Progressive Populist web site, http://www.populist.com/98.10.unocal.html)
Benson said that the attorney general of New York recently asked a court
to revoke the charters of two corporations that allegedly put out deceptive
scientific research for the tobacco industry, and a judge in Alabama has
asked his state courts to dissolve the tobacco companies themselves. In
California, according to Benson, in 1976 conservative. Republican Attorney
General Evelle Younger asked a court to dissolve a private water company
for allegedly delivering impure water to its customers. "California
attorneys general," he noted, "haven't often taken such action
because they've become soft on corporate crime."
Unocal, the petition alleges on information and belief, was principally
responsible for the notorious 1969 oil blowout in the Santa Barbara Channel,
and since then has grievously polluted multiple sites from San Francisco
to Los Angeles and has been identified as a potentially responsible party
at 82 "Superfund" or similar toxic sites.
The California firm, which the petitioners charge is "a dangerous scofflaw
corporation," has also committed hundreds of violations of the Occupational
Safety and Health Act, treats U.S. workers unethically and unfairly, has
usurped political power, has undermined U.S. foreign policy, and has engaged
in a pattern of illegal deceptions of the courts, stockholders and the public,
the petition alleges.
Additionally, the groups allege, Unocal has been complicit in "unspeakable"
human rights violations perpetrated by foreign governments with which it
has business ties in Afghanistan and Burma. The company's dealings with
the Taliban militia in Afghanistan, known for its extremely cruel treatment
of women, have particularly enraged women's groups.
Katherine Spillar, national coordinator for the Feminist Majority Foundation,
one of the petitioning groups, denounced Unocal for its business dealings
with the Taliban to build a gas pipeline which would bring the regime revenue
and legitimacy. "If Unocal thinks it can do business with a regime
that, in effect, denies women their right to exist as human beings, then
we think Unocal's privilege to exist as a corporation must also be denied,"
The petition credits as its inspiration a 1993 pamphlet by Richard Grossman
and Frank Adams, "Taking Care of Business: Citizenship and the Charter
Grossman, co-founder of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy,
one of the petitioning groups, said that the courts have "always held
that corporations are artificial entities, 'mere creatures of the state,'
and must be summoned to answer to the people for usurpations of power and
violations of the public trust such as those repeatedly committed by the
Union Oil Company of California."
Summary of A Ten-Count Case Against Unocal
1) Ecocide; Environmental Devastation. Being in the oil and gas business,
Unocal owed the public "a duty of care," which it has failed.
"The company's environmental devastation extends from local to global
and is serious enough to describe as ecocide ... [In California] Unocal
has demonstrated a pattern and practice of polluting the locations where
it operates ... Unocal has proved itself an incorrigible recidivist environmental
Illustrations are given concerning an 18-mile stretch of coastline between
San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara County, concerning which Unocal has just
agreed to pay $44 million, exclusive of the costs of clean-up. Concerning
pollution from its refinery in Rodeo, California, the company paid $3 million
in criminal and civil fines to the county in 1995 and in 1997 agreed to
pay $80 million to settle private lawsuits for 18,000 individuals. Other
offenses are recited.
2) Unfair and Unethical Treatment of Workers. Becoming a global company,
Unocal has sold off its U.S. refineries and gasoline stations to finance
expanding oil and gas production overseas, abandoning past and future generations
of workers and moving into repressive countries "where the company
could exploit cheap and even slave foreign labor. While this is an increasingly
typical story as U.S. companies move offshore abetted by free trade agreements
and cheered on by extremist economic ideologues, it is not an ethical story,
nor one that the People of the State of California, represented by the Attorney
General, must sit cross-legged listening to." This count also reviews
the company's hundreds of violations of federal health and safety workplace
3) Aiding Oppression of Women. "Unocal has initiated business dealings
with a repressive rebel military force in Afghanistan infamous for gross
violations of human rights." As lead partner, with $54.11% interest,
in the Centgas consortium for the future construction of a gas pipeline
from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and, potentially, India,
Unocal opened negotiations with the Taliban, "a militia faction of
Muslin extremists in a nation at civil war."
"At gunpoint, the Taliban have enforced the most oppressive regime
of gender apartheid known to the world, banning girls from going to school,
banning women from attending university, prohibiting women from holding
jobs, requiring women to be accompanied at all times in public by a male
member of their immediate families, requiring women to be covered from head
to toe in a 'burqa' with only a small mesh facial opening ... requiring
windows of homes with women to be darkened ... Women cannot be treated by
male doctors, women are forced to seek care at a primitive women's hospital
with limited supplies, only a few beds, and no running water. For violation
of the Taliban's harsh edicts women have been beaten, shot at, publicly
flogged, tortured, and even killed.
"As a collaborator with the Taliban, Unocal has become an integral
participant in the ongoing violation of the human rights of Afghanistan's
entire female population ... The Taliban stand to collect $50 million to
$100 million a year in transit fees if the pipeline is built."
A company denial that it was dealing with the Taliban is said by the petitioners
not to square with reputable press accounts. In July 1998 the company acknowledged
that the CentGas consortium deals "with all factions in Afghanistan."
In late August after the U.S. dropped missiles on an alleged terrorist camp
in Afghanistan the company "suspended" all activities concerning
the proposed pipeline and said it would not go forward on it until the U.S.
recognizes a government in the country.
4) Aiding Oppression of Homosexuals. In Afghanistan, "Taliban policy
is to put anyone convicted of homosexual sodomy to death by burying them
alive under mud walls pushed over them by a bulldozer. Two homosexuals were
recently executed in this fashion. Three others who were still alive 30
minutes after a wall was pushed over them were allowed to live, with broken
bones. ... Doing business with the Taliban unavoidably supports their regime
of torture and death for homosexuals, just as doing business with Nazi Germany
supported the ovens of the Holocaust," the petition states.
5) Enslavement and Forced Labor. Unocal has formed a business enterprise
with the illegal military dictatorship of Burma to build a natural gas pipeline
across a civil war zone in the country. That dictatorship set aside election
results that went 82% for its opposition in 1990. Unocal's interest in the
pipeline consortium is 28.16%.
The military dictatorship (SLORC) has confiscated land, relocated villages,
and destroyed rainforest and other habitat for the pipeline; and Unocal
"has profited from the use of forced and slave labor" by the military
dictatorship and "knew or should have known and could have reasonably
foreseen that its military partner would use forced labor to clear the land
for the pipeline route, build related infrastructure in the area, and provide
security for the pipeline."
U.S. State Department reports on forced labor in Burma are quoted. Human
Rights Watch/Asia estimates that since 1992 at least two million people
have been forced to work without pay on roads, railways, and bridges across
Burma. Unocal says there has never been forced labor on the pipeline itself
and the company would not countenance it.
6) Forced Relocations of Burmese Villages and Villagers. "Unocal has
knowingly profited from the large-scale forcible relocation of Burmese villages
and villagers without compensation," the petition alleges.
7) Killings, Torture and Rape. "Unocal's military business partner
[in Burma] has committed widespread killings, torture, and rapes. ...Unocal
has to have known that it was dealing with a notorious outlaw regime condemned
worldwide for heinous human rights violations."
U.S. State Department and U.N. Commission on Human Rights reports are quoted
concerning, respectively, credible reports of soldiers "extrajudicial
killings and rape"and "extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
and enforced disappearances, torture, abuse of women and children by government
agents." According to the petition, "Unocal knew or should have
known that SLORC security for the pipeline would lead to human rights violations
8) Complicity in Gradual Cultural Genocide of Tribal and Indigenous Peoples.
In the case of the Lubicon Cree people of Canada, Unocal has operated the
Slave Lake oil and gas field since 1981; Slave Lake lies in the Lubicon
Cree's traditional lands. In the summer of 1994, despite U.N. attempts to
protect the Lubicon Cree people from development impinging on their lands,
Unocal built a $10 million sour gas plant, which smells like rotten eggs,
a little more than a mile upwind from the boundary of the proposed reserve
which the Lubicon Cree and the government of Canada had previously agreed
"The Lubicon Cree believe their traditional economy has been deliberately
destroyed by the governments of Canada and Alberta as part of a legal strategy.
In this context, Unocal is complicit as a joint participant...in accomplishing
a gradual cultural genocide."
Concerning principally the Karen and Mon tribes in Burma, "Unocal knew
or should have known and could have reasonably foreseen that its military
partner would intensify its civil war against the tribal peoples of the
9) Usurpation of Political Power. Unocal has "usurped" political
power "that it cannot, by its corporate nature, exercise" and
has aggressively undermined democratic processes at home and abroad. In
Burma and Afghanistan it has taken sides "with brutal human rights
abusers, giving them legitimacy, defending them publicly, working with them."
In Burma, acting in hostile opposition to the democratically elected government,
Unocal has worked "to subvert the Burmese people's right to self- determination."
Unocal "has decided to become a global economic and political force
unto itself," "deploys diplomats as if it were the State Department
itself," and "works to thwart U.S. foreign policy."
One of Unocal's business partners in Burma, wholly owned by the government,
is accused of being "the main channel for laundering the revenues of
heroin" exported from Burma under control of the Burmese army, and
in Afghanistan, according to the U.S. State Department, the Taliban "claim
to forbid drug use but they control the opium growing lands and collect
a tax from opium farmers." Yet Unocal management sought strenuously
to block its stockholders' consideration of its business partner's alleged
laundering of drug money in Burma.
10) Deception of the Courts, Shareholders, and the Public. Unocal "has
exhibited a pattern of deceiving the courts, its shareholders, and the public
about its activities." In 1996 a federal district judge found that
a Unocal paralegal, with either the tacit or overt approval of her superiors,
altered data, withheld information, and gave false responses in verified
court documents. Unocal, contrary to press reports, told its investors and
the public that it was not doing business with any party in Afghanistan.
Unocal is one of a number of oil companies alleged to have defrauded the
public out of hundreds of millions of dollars by underpaying oil royalties
due from leases on public lands.
Al Krebs is a contributing writer to The Progressive Populist
and a member of the National Council of the Alliance for Democracy.
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