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Chevron CSR campaign plays with fire

Chevron, the second largest US oil group and owner of the Texaco brand,  launched a major corporate social responsibility charm offensive this week. Days later, it announced it is resuming oil exploration in the Gulf Mexico. Are these two things by any chance connected? And, less rhetorically, is this connection wise?

The CSR offensive, which takes the form of a press and TV ad campaign masterminded by Dentsu subsidiary McGarryBowen, has caused equal measures of mirth and consternation in the USA. And for good reason. Here’s the flavour. In each of the five full-page Chevron ads appearing in major newspapers (and the Economist), banner headlines announce that oil companies have responsibilities with phrases such as “Oil companies need to get real,” “Oil companies should clean up their messes” and (probably the most ironic one) “Oil companies should support the communities they are a part of”. Beneath each of these sonorous declarations of intent is the statement: “We agree”.

The ads have spawned a convincing online spoof, created by the Yes Men – who have a track-record in this kind of activity – and caused some hollow laughter at NGOs Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network, who provided supporting material for the spoof. Notoriously, Texaco is mired in a controversy over environmental damage it is claimed to have caused in Ecuador.

I suspect the cruellest irony for Chevron may yet be to come. Now that president Obama has lifted the moratorium on deep-water oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil company has announced its intention to boldly go where Man has never drilled before. That is, two fields located 7,000 ft down – 2,000 ft deeper than the ill-fated BP Macondo well – and only 280 miles south of New Orleans.

Good luck to Chevron with that one.

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