By Kiana Wilburg
ExxonMobil’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chairman, Darren Woods, has often said the American oil giant subscribes to the principles of transparency and accountability, but when it comes to the practice or implementation of those doctrines, ExxonMobil does have its limits. This was evident when shareholders recently called for ExxonMobil to make more detailed disclosures about its lobbying activities but that call was rejected by Woods.
During the conference call that occurred on Wednesday, Ricky Brooks, a shareholder and an employee at ExxonMobil’s Baytown Texas refinery, noted that Exxon’s current lobbying disclosure is inadequate. The President of the USW 13-2001, the largest Union at the ExxonMobil Chemical plant and Refinery, sa
id that more transparency in state lobbying and involvement in trade association, as well as social welfare organizations that can engage in unlimited lobbying activities, is needed.
Brooks said, “When our company’s lobbying contradicts its public position, it’s problematic…For example, ExxonMobil is assisting COVID-19 relief efforts but the Chamber of Commerce of which ExxonMobil is an active and prominent member, is [lobbying] against using the Defense Production Act on medical manufacturing when essential workers like me and frontline workers face PPE shortages.”
The Union President added, “Exxon discloses making a total of US$390,000 in contributions to the Chamber’s charitable group in 2018 but shareholders have no way of knowing the company’s payments to the Chamber itself.”
In providing another example, the shareholder said he has seen firsthand how dangerous refineries and chemical plants can be. In this regard, he noted that his union leads the National Old Boardman Programme, which helps address safety issues in the industry, and pushes for process safety management regulations in California that would make refineries and surrounding communities safer. Much to his surprise, Brooks said that the Western States Petroleum Association which ExxonMobil contributes to lobbied heavily to roll back safety reform. In fact, this association he said has been in California in 2019 to directly lobby against regulations that protect workers like him and the community Exxon operates in.
Additionally, Brooks said that ExxonMobil claims it supports the Paris Climate Agreement and yet it was named by Influence Map as one of the top-three global corporations lobbying against effective climate policy. Because of this misalignment last year, he highlighted that Exxon was at risk of being banned from lobbying in the European Union.
With the foregoing in mind, the Union President said it is time for ExxonMobil to do what is right and engage in full disclosure on its activities.
In response, ExxonMobil’s CEO said that the firm follows a strict review and oversight process to ensure its public policy positions are aligned with lobbying activities. He said that this process includes regular reviews of public issues of significance with the management committee and the board.
In addition, Woods said that the company’s positions on key issues and grassroots lobbying communications are publicly available on its Web site. Further to this, he said that each year, the company’s political contributions and lobbying expenditures are presented to the board.
“We also issue public filings that include expenses associated with employee federal lobbying. This includes those portions of payments to trade associations, coalitions and think tanks that are spent as part of federal lobbying,” the ExxonMobil Chairman stated. To summarize, Woods said that the board believes the company’s detailed disclosures are appropriate and therefore recommended that shareholders vote against the motion put forward by Brooks.
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