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Chevron a finalist for State Department’s “Academy Awards”

Earlier this month, the State Department announced that Chevron was among the finalists for Foggy’s Bottom’s Award for Corporate Excellence, prompting many to wonder why the U.S. government was rewarding a company that stands accused of bad acts abroad that far outweigh its philanthropic work. “It’s our Academy Awards,” said Nancy Smith-Nissley, senior coordinator State’s ...

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Earlier this month, the State Department announced that Chevron was among the finalists for Foggy's Bottom's Award for Corporate Excellence, prompting many to wonder why the U.S. government was rewarding a company that stands accused of bad acts abroad that far outweigh its philanthropic work.

"It's our Academy Awards," said Nancy Smith-Nissley, senior coordinator State's office of economic policy analysis and public diplomacy (part of the "EB" bureau), at the QDDR forum Tuesday put on by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

"Through corporate responsibility, we have a truly interagency approach for a truly good cause. I mean, it's motherhood and apple pie," she said of the award, which was established in the 1990s by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Earlier this month, the State Department announced that Chevron was among the finalists for Foggy’s Bottom’s Award for Corporate Excellence, prompting many to wonder why the U.S. government was rewarding a company that stands accused of bad acts abroad that far outweigh its philanthropic work.

“It’s our Academy Awards,” said Nancy Smith-Nissley, senior coordinator State’s office of economic policy analysis and public diplomacy (part of the “EB” bureau), at the QDDR forum Tuesday put on by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

“Through corporate responsibility, we have a truly interagency approach for a truly good cause. I mean, it’s motherhood and apple pie,” she said of the award, which was established in the 1990s by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

But critics point out that Chevron, while deserving of credit for its aid contributions in the Philippines, for which it received the recognition, may soon be forced to pay up to $27 billion for allegedly neglecting hundreds of toxic-waste pits all over Ecuador during the last few decades.

For its part, Chevron says it has never operated in the Latin American country (actually it was Texaco, which Chevron acquired, in a partnership with Ecuador’s national oil company, Petroecuador).

Company spokesman Kent  Robertson told The Cable that “over the more than 16 years this matter has been litigated in Ecuador, the American trial lawyers behind the lawsuits have failed to produce any credible evidence to support their assertions.”

The critics, as reported by Newsweek and other publications, also accuse Chevron of using its huge coffers to curry favor with the State Department in an effort to stave off any official government objections to what many see as irresponsible actions abroad.

For example, Chevron responded to a personal effort by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and coughed up $5 million for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo last month. And the company received an award this summer named after Richard Holbrooke, the State Department’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke previously led the Global Business Coalition, the nonprofit organization that gave Chevron the award. Chevron has reportedly given the coalition $30 million to fight HIV/AIDS.

Chevron is now reportedly lobbying the administration to intervene in the Ecuador lawsuit, placing the State Department in the position of potentially defending the alleged bad acts of a company it is simultaneously praising as a model for corporate behavior.

“The company cannot balance the scales of morality by doing some good over there while ruining people’s lives and polluting lands someplace else,” said Karen Hinton, who works on behalf of the plaintiffs in the Ecuador case. “Instead of adapting their policies to finally fulfill their legal and moral obligations and to be a better corporate citizen, Chevron has instead chosen the strategy of using its record-breaking profits to buy itself a good corporate reputation.”

Regarding the award, Robertson said the company was “pleased that the success of Chevron’s projects in the Philippines has been acknowledged and that the company is being considered among such other impressive finalists.”

“It is a pity,” he continued, “that coverage of the other finalists’ accomplishments will be sacrificed in order to promote the unsubstantiated allegations of those seeking to advance their own narrow agenda.”

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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