ABOUT ME

Described by the New York Times “a super-specialist” in human rights advocacy, I have over 20 years of experience helping investors, non-profits, universities, communities, and unions use their power to lobby their governments and hold corporations accountable.

At the socially responsible asset management firm Trillium Asset Management, I pioneered the use of shareholder engagement of oil, gas, and mining companies operating in countries racked by conflict and burdened by repressive regimes in Burma (Myanmar), China, East Timor, and Nigeria.  Working with animal rights groups, I helped file the first shareholder resolution at McDonald’s to improve the conditions of farm animals. I also worked with Greenpeace and U.S. PIRG to file the first shareholder resolutions at BP on climate change.

I have considerable experience working with boards of directors and investment committees. I often advise students, administrators, and faculty on how to develop university endowment investment policies. I have consulted to Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, and Catholic Healthcare West (now Dignity Health) on how to express their mission and values through social screening of investments and shareholder engagement on human rights, social justice, and environmental issues. I have also made presentations on divestment and shareholder engagement to the boards of CalPERS and the University of Washington as well as top executives of the World Bank.

I served on the Committee on Socially Responsible Investment of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) where I helped the Unitarian Universalist Common Endowment Fund screen its investments and engage in shareholder activism on LGBT rights, social justice, and climate change. I also helped negotiate between staff and members to write a business resolution on fossil fuel divestment that passed overwhelmingly at the 2014 UUA General Assembly.

As part of the Free Burma movement, I have organized shareholder activism and the use of state and local selective purchasing laws to put pressure on corporations to withdraw from Burma. I co-authored the Massachusetts Burma selective purchasing law with state rep. Byron Rushing and led the grassroots lobbyng campaign to enact it.  Later, I helped defend the law from challenge at the World Trade Organization and in the U.S. Supreme Court.  I also helped found the U.S. Campaign for Burma and served on the Board of Directors and as Executive Director.

At Oxfam America, I founded the work of the agency’s Private Sector Department. I helped communities around the world affected by oil, gas, and mining corporations to secure support from shareholders and directly engage the companies in order to protect their lands and livelihoods.  I also created a coalition of investors that successfully pressed Procter & Gamble to support farming communities by starting to buy Fair Trade Certified coffee for its Millstone brand.

As Co-chair of the Business and Human Rights Group of Amnesty International USA, I have built the capacity of staff and members to put effective pressure on companies to respect human rights. I also help manage Amnesty International USA’s use of a portfolio of stocks for shareholder activism on issues of human rights.

In all of my work, I’ve helped bring many parties to the table to dialogue with top corporate executives. Through careful facilitation, I’ve helped many corporations reach common ground with their critics and address tough environmental and human rights issues.

I have often been brought in by corporations to help them address tough issues. I have made presentations to top management at Procter & Gamble and Newmont Mining. ExxonMobil invited me to speak about social responsibility and sustainability to its elite management training program.

I especially love my role as an advisory board member of both SumOfUs and the Harry Potter Alliance.

I have a BA (Political Science and Economics) from Loughborough University and I hold an MBA (Accounting and Finance) from Boston College.  I also completed the Prince of Wales’s Business and Sustainability Programme, which convenes leaders of business, government, and the non-profit sector to tackle key social and environmental problems.

 

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Recent Posts

Chevron Shareholders Still Wary of Risks From $11 Billion Ecuador Judgment

Chevron shareholders remain wary of the risks from an $11 billion judgment against the company in Ecuador. They also continue to be critical of Chevron management’s mishandling of the case.

At Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting in May, a significant number of Chevron shareholders expressed criticism of management. Shareholders voted 378,540,311 shares in support of a resolution that cited management’s mishandling of the case in Ecuador and called for tighter shareholder oversight.

Put simply, Chevron management lost the confidence of shareholders holding nearly one third of its shares, valued at almost $38 billion.

In a solicitation to shareholders filed at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the resolution proponent, Newground Social Investment was severely critical of Chevron management.

Proponents believe that Chevron’s management has materially mishandled legal matters brought against the company by communities in Ecuador – in ways that increased liabilities for the matter, currently amounting to $9.5 billion. Moreover, proponents are concerned about the adequacy of the company’s disclosure of those risks to shareholders. Finally, proponents are deeply troubled that the company has harassed longstanding shareholders who questioned the company’s approach to these issues….

…It is our belief that instead of negotiating an expedient, fair, and comprehensive settlement with the affected communities in Ecuador, Chevron management pursued a costly, risky, and ultimately unsuccessful legal strategy that involved material missteps. Although the Company has engaged in various legal efforts to try to negate the Ecuador judgment, the proliferation of circumstances and locations where the Ecuador judgment may be enforced increases the likelihood of a large eventual loss as a result of the case.

In the past year, Chevron’s management has suffered additional court setbacks and made strategic blunders in the case that heighten the risks to shareholders.

Chevron continues to lose legal ground to the Ecuadoran villagers as they seek to collect on their $11 billion judgement against the company.  To collect the $11 billion judgment, the Ecuadorian villagers have filed judgment enforcement actions targeting Chevron assets in Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. In September 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that the Ecuadorian plaintiffs may proceed to enforce the $11 billion judgment against Chevron’s Canadian assets. This figure represents more than 73% of the value of Chevron’s total assets in Canada. In addition, time is not on Chevron’s side.  Interest on the underlying judgment is increasing Chevron’s liability by an estimated $275 million per year.

Meanwhile Chevron’s efforts to put pressure on the Ecuadoran government may spectacularly backfire. Chevron has been awarded $96 million plus compound interest by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague due to Ecuador’s breach of its contractual obligations to Texaco. On June 6, 2016, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear Ecuador’s appeal of that ruling. What turns this good news into bad for the company is that the $96 million judgment against Ecuador is now an asset of Chevron’s in Ecuador.

The Ecuadoran courts have already awarded what remained of Chevron’s assets in the country to the plaintiffs as part of their collection on their $11 billion judgment. If the plaintiffs were to collect even a few million dollars of the $96 million judgment, they would have the money necessary to launch further collections against Chevron’s assets around the world. As Marco Simons, Legal Director of EarthRights International, noted in a prescient blog five years ago:

[T]he plaintiffs only need to win once or a few times, while Chevron needs to win everywhere.  Even if Chevron wins twenty cases, just one loss could cost the company hundreds of millions or billions of dollars.

Chevron also faces a possible overturning or rollback of its judgment against the plaintiffs and their lawyers in its RICO suit. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision sharply curtailed the use of the RICO statute in a case against RJR Nabisco over cigarette smuggling in Europe, according to a new legal filing by Gupta/Wessler.

Deepak Gupta, who represents U.S. attorney Steven Donziger, made the submission to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit asserting that the RJR decision “further limits private RICO actions by requiring proof of a quantifiable, redressable and domestic injury – something Chevron has steadfastly refused to identify,” Gupta said. The RJR decision also made clear that the RICO statute could not be used to attack a final judgment from a foreign court, as Chevron has tried to do in the Ecuador case, Gupta added in the letter.

Chevron’s playbook in the Ecuador case of downplaying the risks to shareholders and savagely attacking its critics may well be unravelling.  As Katie Redford, Director of EarthRights International, noted in her recent blog “The New Corporate Playbook, Or What To Do When Environmentalists Stand In Your Way:”

Companies are no longer satisfied with evading their liability for human and environmental harms. Of course, they continue their tried and true tactics of denial, cover ups and fraud, but with the additional goal of silencing their critics, they are counter-attacking, mounting a sophisticated and well-funded campaign to target, sue, surveil, and harass the activists, lawyers, and NGOs that expose their harms. They have powerful allies in Congress and in the media that aid them in their efforts to intimidate, distract and sap the resources of organizations that are already out-resourced in what can only be described as David and Goliath struggles.

There is probably no other case where a company has pursued this playbook so vigorously as Chevron has done in the Ecuador oil pollution case. Chevron even subpoenaed its own shareholders who voiced their concerns.

However, shareholders have continued to voice their concerns over Chevron management’s mishandling of the Ecuador case.  The continued high vote for resolutions critical of management demonstrate that a large number of Chevron’s own shareholders lack confidence in the company’s ability to withstand the fall-out from losing the Ecuador lawsuit without significant damage to shareholder value.

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