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Trillium News

July 1, 1998

The Handwriting On the Wall (Archive)

I trust that if there were anything truly reassuring to tell shareholders about Unocal’s relationship with the barbaric Taliban regime of Afghanistan, Chairman Roger Beach would have said it at last month’s annual stockholders meeting.

Several of us attended to press Unocal to explain how the company can insist that it isn’t “negotiating” with the Taliban when numerous international press reports credit the corporation with underwriting their visits to the United States, welcoming them into their homes, doling out gifts from fax machines to frisbees, and even picking up the tab for the occasional pair of eyeglasses. Outside the meeting, a score of protestors from the local Feminist Majority outpost held up signs on the sidewalk of suburban Brea, California, some in makeshift burqas, the head-to-to veil Afghan women are required to wear under Taliban rule. Fifty yards away, Unocal’s security detail captured their activities on videotape.

Concerns about Burma and Afghanistan dominated the meeting. I described the Taliban’s brutal treatment of women, unbearded men, ‘sodomites,’ and other assorted heathen, to my fellow shareholders, many of whom, I am certain, were hearing about it for the first time. Mavis Leno, a board member of the Feminist Majority Foundation, asked the Chairman to clarify what “negotiating” means if Unocal’s acknowledged numerous meetings between with the Taliban fall short of the definition. One would have expected Unocal to take the Los Angeles-based activist seriously, as she has testified before Congress on the Taliban’s oppression of women and happens to be married to the rather well-connected Jay Leno of The Late Show. But Roger Beach could only reiterate that no commercial agreements had yet been negotiated. (Exactly a week later, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported that Unocal had finalized pipeline protocols with both the Taliban and the warring factions. Seems the warriors have no trouble cooperating for a payoff that will allow them to continue bombing the existence out of each other.)

At the mike again, I noted Unocal’s pledge “not [to] conduct business with any party in Afghanistan until peace is achieved and a government recognized by international lending agencies is in place.” The Chairman tried to cut me off (actually addressing me as “young lady”), but I pressed him to pledge right then and there that Unocal wouldn’t lay the pipeline until women’s rights were fully restored in addition to the advent of something that passes for peace. My request was not honored.

Professor Robert Benson of Loyola Law School asked Chairman Beach to clarify the nature of Unocal’s contract with the University of Nebraska to train Afghans to work on the pipeline. The University’s Center for Afghan Studies has told Professor Benson that the Taliban was not allowing it to train any women, in direct contradiction to Unocal’s corporate policies against sex-based discrimination. Benson also boldy asked whether the Chairman and the board would commit to taking their wives and daughters to Afghanistan on their next visit. Declining comment on the first question, Beach allowed that Afghanistan was not on his travel itinerary, and besides, India-Pakistani tensions were throwing a wrench into the pipeline’s planning. (The previous month, the Unocal and its project partners had been in Afghanistan surveying the pipeline route.) He stuttered something about Unocal treating women “with the full respect they deserve” (whatever that means), entirely begging the question of the Taliban’s treatment of women.

The choice is yours. Take Unocal at its word — or urge all parties involved to continue withholding recognition to the Taliban and to use all possible channels to restore women’s rights to work, education and physical safety. Unocal and relevant government bodies can be e-mailed directly from the Feminist Majority’s web site (www.feminist.org), and written addresses can be found on this page to the right. Please act quickly. And stay tuned to this page for further shareholder actions.

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