This is monumental. Indigenous groups in Ecuador have brought a billion-dollar lawsuit against ChevronTexaco in the Ecuadoran courts for the environmental destruction that company unleashed on their land between 1971 and 1992. This David and Goliath struggle is not the only one (similar lawsuits have been lodged against Shell in Nigeria and Unocal in Burma), but it could be another important precedent in the struggle of communities against corporations.
The lawsuit alleges that Texaco dumped billions of gallons of toxic sludge, effluent and oil into open pits that seeped into rivers and streams and estuaries, sickening or killing people and wildlife. (The suit says Texaco dumped half again as much oil in Ecuador as was spilled by the Exxon Valdez.) The toxic damage will remain there for generations to come.
Naturally, the company denies any wrongdoing, saying its actions cannot be linked to the environmental damage and illness the lawsuit claims. It reminds me of the tobacco barons all saying with straight faces that cigarettes are not addictive. This is what deeply annoys me, this corporate arrogance; they treat us all -- the public, the legal system, their victims -- like ignorant children who do not know that 1+1=2.
The U.S. courts have thrown the case out four times already, but this time the group is taking its case to Ecuador's own legal system. Normally, environmental regulations in these developing countries are nominal, if they exist at all. That makes it easy for corporations to claim -- in all literal honesty -- that they have complied with all local regulations.
But even if significant laws do exist, developing countries' court systems are often nowhere near sophisticated enough to handle complex, multi-plaintiff cases against huge corporations. That's what the multinationals count on -- they choose their victims well.
But Ecuador has a new law that holds corporations accountable for environmental crimes. This lawsuit will be its first major test.
Read more about this remarkable case:
The Los Angeles Times
The New York Times (id: anita_roddick; pwd: roddick)