Amnesty International has taken on some major corporations in its fight for human rights. Now, it is trying a new approach.
Amnesty International, Washington, purchased 34 shares of Exxon Mobil Corp. in 1999, which will allow the organization to introduce a resolution at the company's May 29 shareholders' meeting. The resolution calls for the Irving, Texas-based company to adopt a comprehensive human rights policy that would affect its global operations.
The corporate governance campaign is part of an effort to ensure human rights for citizens of countries where the oil company conducts business, said Alistair Hodgett, Amnesty International media director. The group wants to make Exxon Mobil use its influence on local political leaders before it agrees to conduct business in a country.
For instance, Exxon Mobil leads a consortium that is building a 650-mile pipeline in Chad. Amnesty International is concerned about the alleged massacre of at least 100 unarmed civilians by Chadian security forces in 1998 and the possibility that the pipeline's construction could lead to civil unrest because of past instances of government corruption and civilian backlash. The country has demonstrated "a pattern of behavior by the security forces," wrote Mr. Hodgett in an e-mail. He went on to add that Chadian president Idriss Deby acknowledged in October 2000 that funds the country received from multinational corporations doing business in the nation were used for "counter-insurgency" efforts such as helicopters, vehicles and other military equipment.
Mr. Hodgett points out the group is not accusing Exxon Mobil of any direct human rights violations, but he said that by conducting business in countries with suspect human rights records -including Chad, Indonesia and Nigeria - it may have a supporting role in abuses.
"I think we continue to evolve," said Mr. Hodgett of Amnesty International's tactics for dealing with major corporations, adding the group's goal is to create standards that will keep human rights abuses from being subsidized with corporate money.
"There has been a dialogue (with Exxon Mobil), but we wanted them to move more quickly," said Mr. Hodgett.
A written statement from Exxon Mobil's board of directors said the board does not support the resolution.
If the tactic succeeds, the group will consider purchasing stock in other companies; it has an additional $20,000 available for such purposes, he said.