As global elites gather in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, the oil giant Chevron was singled out on Friday for a highly competitive—if unflattering—international distinction: the Public Eye Lifetime Award for its extraordinary corporate irresponsibility, which includes monumental environmental destruction in northern Ecuador.
Granted by grassroots organizations at a public ceremony at a hotel in Davos, the winner of the satirical prize was determined by tens of thousands of online voters. The race was close, with Glencore and Walmart coming in a close second, but voters ultimately determined that Chevron deserves the top distinction.
The oil giant, however, declined to attend the ceremony, so Greenpeace Switzerland accepted the award on Chevron's behalf.
"Chevron is uniquely deserving of a lifetime award for the lifetime of misery they have caused the Ecuadorian Amazon," Paul Paz y Miño, of the U.S.-based organization Amazon Watch, told Common Dreams over the phone from Davos. "This is not only because of their original pollution—dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic waste—but because they have ignored every judicial process to hold them to account, even though they were determined liable for $9.5 billion in court of their own choosing."
"Not only did they refuse to pay," Paz y Miño added, "but they pointed their finger at their own victims, accusing the people that they poisoned of a global conspiracy to commit fraud. It undermines the very fabric of our society because you can't simply evade justice because you have the wealth to litigate in perpetuity."
This is not the first time that Chevron won a Public Eye prize. In 2006, the oil giant won the Public Eye Award for "polluting large areas of pristine rain forest in northern Ecuador." However, the Lifetime Award is a higher distinction, and it marks an end to the Public Eye awards after 15 years.
The prizes have been aimed at casting "a critical and innovative eye on the World Economic Forum," according to a press statement. Numbered among participants and attendees were the famed Yes Men, a European parliamentarian, and even a representative from the WEF.
Past award recipients include Dow Chemical, awarded in 2005, for "using every loophole in the book to avoid its responsibility for the Bhopal disaster, the world’s largest chemical catastrophe in human history." Last year, Gap and Gazprom were both winners of "Awards of Shame."
According to Paz y Miño, Chevron's Lifetime Achievement prize is "particularly important right now because part of Chevron's strategy is to claim they were victimized. International recognition from awards like this are clear demonstration to Chevron that the rest of world understands and acknowledges they are irresponsible."
Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men told Common Dreams that Chevron's bad behavior is distinguished but not unique. "All of the hundreds of companies ever nominated for Public Eye awards, and thousands of others as well, are almost as deserving of this award as Chevron is," said Bichlbaum.
The true winner of the Lifetime Award, he added, "is our insane system—that makes behavior like Chevron's rational. That's the system we've got to change, and luckily there's a movement afoot to do that."