A few weeks ago, I wrote about Chuck Hagel’s position on the board of Chevron, an oil company that’s been criticized for its connection to human rights abuses. His role at the company has troubled environmental activists, and could pit him against progressives who are already wary of his positions on gay rights and abortion.
Hagel’s board membership “raises concerns about conflict of interest, especially in an area as geopolitically sensitive as Central Asia,” said Kate Watters, executive director at Crude Accountability, an environmental activist group that focuses on the Caspian Sea basin. “Chevron’s significant investments in Kazakhstan and interest in investing in Turkmenistan—both authoritarian regimes—are at direct odds with the human rights concerns that should be at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy,” she added.
Crude Accountability has been campaigning against Chevron’s outreach to the authoritarian government in Turkmenistan. In 2010, one of the group’s activist confronted Hagel at a shareholder meeting, and asked whether he would “insist that [Chevron] take a principled stance in favor of human rights in Turkmenistan.” Hagel declined to comment in person, and Crude Accountability was told to send him a letter instead; the group did, but never heard back.
Hagel’s role at Chevron has attracted very little media attention so far, even as progressive activists are preparing for a major PR battle with the company. Mother Jones’s Andy Kroll reported earlier this week that a deep-pocketed coalition of left-wing groups is set to launch a campaign targeting several companies, including Chevron. With that fight on the horizon, the White House has to be hoping Hagel’s affiliation with the oil giant escapes notice.