Two resolutions aimed at pressuring oil exploration company Unocal Corp. to abandon its natural gas venture in Myanmar--whose military government has been criticized for human rights abuses--were defeated Monday at Unocal's annual shareholder meeting.
A resolution that would have required Unocal to adopt a code of conduct discouraging business involvement in countries that used forced labor received about 22% of the vote, preliminary results show.
The second resolution, which would have tied executive compensation to the company's ethical and social performance, did even worse and received just 15.4% of the vote.
The board of El Segundo-based Unocal had recommended against passage of both resolutions, saying they were unnecessary because similar policies already were in place.
The California Public Employees' Retirement System, or CalPERS--the nation's largest pension fund--voted in favor of both resolutions. CalPERS, which is known for lobbying for improvements in corporate governance, holds 1.5 million Unocal shares.
The meeting was conducted in a Unocal auditorium in Brea while 40 protesters, many of them Burmese, demonstrated outside.
"They're fully aware of what the brutal military regime is doing," said Heidi Quante, coordinator of Unocal Campaign, a group seeking to educate Unocal shareholders about the company's activities in Myanmar. "We're arguing that the cost of doing business there isn't worth the revenues."
Quante said the group she leads has been joined this year by a number of labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, which also had a representative at the meeting.
As shareholder activism has increased this year, a number of Unocal board members have met individually with concerned stakeholders, Unocal spokesman Barry Lane said. He also defended the company's actions in Myanmar.
"Go look at the region where the [natural gas] pipeline is," he said. "The standard of living is significantly higher there. There's been an increase in population there because of the opportunities. If you had more Western involvement, you'd see a much broader impact on the Burmese people."
Unocal has been dogged by protests for six years because of its involvement in the Yadana natural gas project off the Myanmar coast. Human rights groups allege that the Myanmar military used forced labor in constructing a pipeline that connects the gas field to Thailand.