Nigerian Women Force Oil Company to Take Corporate Responsibility

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Beginning in early July of 2002, thousands of Nigerian women from various communities in the Niger Delta held peaceful protests against U.S.-owned Chevron-Texaco to demand for jobs for their sons, schools, scholarships, hospitals, water, electricity and protection of the environment. The women seized Chevron-Texaco’s terminals, airstrip, docks and stores, disrupting production of about 450,000 barrels of crude oil for each day the protests went on. "Oil site takeovers are common in Nigeria, the world’s sixth-largest exporter of oil, but the peaceful protest is a departure for the oil-rich Niger Delta region, where armed men routinely resort to kidnapping and sabotage to press their demands with multi-nationals."1

According to a State Department report on Nigeria, in mid-2001 oil production was averaging 22 million barrels a day. Unfortunately, the Nigerian government invests most of the revenues that come from oil in foreign exchange and not in local communities. The United States is Nigeria’s largest customer for crude oil, accounting for 40 percent of the country’s total oil exports. Nigeria is the U.S.’s fifth-largest supplier of crude oil, accounting for 10 percent of the oil imported into the United States. The United States has invested $7 billion in Nigeria, mostly in the energy sector, and Exxon-Mobil and Chevron-Texaco are the two largest U.S. corporations involved in offshore oil and gas production in Nigeria.2 The export of oil brings in approximately $20 billion to the Nigerian government annually. Despite all the wealth from oil, the Nigerian government, along with multinational corporations operating in the area, has not done anything to improve conditions in the communities surrounding the Niger Delta. The people of the Niger Delta region are not benefiting from the oil wealth and they remain poorer than the national average.

This was the first time women had protested against Chevron-Texaco. One group of protesting women furthered their stance against the oil company by threatening to take off their clothes if their demands for a better life were not met. In Nigeria, nudity of women in public is a traditional sign of shaming men. If the women stripped naked then their families would have to live in shame for what the women had done. The women wanted the officials to visit their communities to witness for themselves the dire conditions they were living in. They demanded investments to raise their standard of living. Most communities don’t have access to water or electricity. The environmental pollution is also damaging crops and wildlife. The Niger Delta is one of the world’s largest wetlands, and the largest in Africa. Oil spills are not an uncommon occurrence in the region, which cause severe damage to fish farming and agricultural activities.

As the women chanted, "Enough is enough," Chevron officials opted for talks with the women. According to Esther Tolar, spokeswomen for one of the groups of protesters, Chevron-Texaco agreed to create jobs for people from nearby villages, upgrade contract workers to full-time positions and create new contract positions. The company also agreed to set up a $160,000 micro-credit program to help village women start their own businesses. Tolar also said that Chevron-Texaco would provide schools, hospitals, water and electricity systems for the nearby villages.

Both sides celebrated after the deal was signed in late July. Tolar said, "History has been made. Our culture is a patriarchal society. For women to come out like this and achieve what we have is out of the ordinary."3 These women have inspired other women around the region to take a stand against oil companies and demand that they take corporate responsibility. One of the protest leaders, Anunu Uwawah, stated something we should all keep in mind when buying gas for our cars, or any other product. She said, " I give one piece of advice to all women in all countries: they shouldn’t let any company cheat them."4

Posted or updated: 11/30/2002 11:00:00 PM
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