For several years Chevron has invested millions in the fight and treatment of HIV/AIDS in Africa. The energy company’s latest initiative is a partnership with mothers2mothers, Pact and the Business Leadership Council to boost efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission in Nigeria. Currently 75,000 babies a year are born in Nigeria with HIV, mostly due to transmission from their mothers.
So is Chevron a leading corporate citizen, or is this effort another corporate social responsibility (CSR) program merely to distract consumers from the fact that the $254 billion energy giant has a massive negative impact on the planet?
It is important to step back a moment and put aside one’s feelings about the energy and extractive industries, and take a look at Chevron the company–as its people. Chevron has long scored a 100 percent mark by the Human Rights Index; for the GLBT community, the company is a safe place in which to work. And the company is located in San Ramon, San Francisco Bay Area suburb, a region that tossed about 70 percent of its votes to the current incumbent president. Executives may send checks one political direction, but rank-and-file employees may vote another path–even at an oil company. Chevron’s workers in West Africa may feel a little differently about their employment then how American workers in an office park fare, but the company claims it is on top of employee health and safety issues.
Furthermore, according to Chevron, its stakeholders want the company to focus on a variety of challenges that affect the company’s workforce. HIV/AIDS is one of those issues: the ravages AIDS has left on Africa has a long history, and a company conducting business in the region, whether it is Chevron or a beverage company such as PepsiCo, has a vested interest in community involvement and improving the health of workers and their families. Cringe as you wish, but for a company to aggressively fight AIDS in Africa is smart long-term business in order to thrive there.
It is fair game to criticize Chevron about the impact its operations have on the environment, even though Chevron is an oil company, not a solar company. And as a public company, its primary responsibility is to its shareholders, who expect the company to drill for energy. The company’s controversial actions in Ecuador also deserve scrutiny. But the assumption that an oil company’s work on health, even HIV/AIDS, is automatically a ruse (complaints I have heard many times from the industry’s critics), is shortsighted. Corporations may not be people, but oil companies do employ people who care–so get them involved!
Let Chevron spend some of its change on reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS–especially if the company’s shareholders expect Chevron to use some its revenues to make a difference on public health within the countries in which it conducts business. If a company can step in where local public health officials fail, the results should be welcomed by stakeholders, including those of us who resent oil companies–but still drive and use plastic.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
Image credit: Chevron