How 'Human' Are the Practices of American Oil Company Chevron That Names Itself the 'Human Energy Company’?

By Artuur Stas

As a Global Law Professor at KU Leuven Yvonne Erkens has taught the class Business and human rights from a labour law perspective. As part of their final assignment, the students participating in that course have written a blog about how companies in the Database of Business Ethics - chosen randomly - aim to comply with fundamental labour rights according to their (supplier) codes of conduct. The three best blogs are now published on our site. The third blog can be found below.

Chevron names itself the 'Human Energy Company’. It is true that Chevron has published a large amount of documents, claiming to safeguard the human (labour) rights of the Chevron workforce over the entire supply chain. Chevron’s ‘Human Rights Policy’, their ‘Business Conduct and Ethics Code’, their ‘Operational Excellence Management System’ and their ‘Supplier Code’ are easily accessible and consultable on its website. Every one of them is compatible with international instruments issued for the protection of human rights, like the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. All of these documents give the impression that Chevron actively investigates its entire supply chain to make sure that the human rights of its workforce are safeguarded.

The truth is, however, somewhat different. Despite its extensive documents on the protection of its workforce, Chevron has been the subject of some controversial disputes in the past. For example, the cases about environmental damage in the Amazon by Texaco (now acquired by Chevron Corporation) and in Angola are still associated with the Chevron name. The same goes for the case of the explosion of the ‘KS Endeavor’ in Nigeria, killing two of the present workers. Even when Chevron was legally exonerated in some of the (other) high-profile cases, NGO’s are still rather sceptical towards Chevron’s conduct across the globe.

This shows that the mere drafting and publication of a code of conduct and a supplier code is not enough to effectively safeguard the human rights of the workforce of a multinational company. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, but the pudding tastes rather bland. This analysis can be extended to almost all multinational companies. The current international mechanisms to protect human (labour) rights are not yet quite on point. International organisations lack a set of sharp “teeth” to effectively sanction non-compliant multinationals.

Compliance with international human labour rights instruments still largely depends on the spontaneous adherence of the multinational companies. It is therefore necessary to focus on the behaviour of the consumers and to guide them from companies that do not respect the human rights of its employers, and towards more “clean” companies. Information about the supply chain and the business practices of the company, that is easily accessible when a consumer buys products, can go a long way to achieve this goal.


den haag