What's Wrong With Exxon?

In 2012, and again in 2013, HRC gave Exxon Mobil a negative 25 out of 100 possible points on its annual Corporate Equality Index. Here’s why.

BY Antonia Juhasz

September 03 2013 6:00 AM ET

Tom Allen and husband, Jeff Howard, at Mobil’s Dallas office building where Allen once worked.

For 22 years, the annual AIDS Walk has been the premier fundraising event of Fort Worth’s AIDS Outreach Center — the only nonprofit HIV/AIDS organization in the city. It supports seven surrounding rural counties and provides a full host of services — mostly free of charge. The majority of its clients are black or Hispanic and range in age from children under 12 to seniors over 64.

The AIDS Walk regularly brings in some $50,000 annually. For years, XTO Energy was among its many key local corporate sponsors. In both 2009 and 2010, XTO donated $10,000 to the march. But in 2011, XTO’s contributions abruptly stopped.

“It hurt us. It definitely hurt us,” says Penny Rowell, the Center’s special events coordinator. “It is a very, very large loss for us. A very large and very unexpected loss, too.”

What changed? “The Exxon Corporation bought XTO out,” Center Development Associate Randall Gentry explains. “We have tried since then to regain their support, but they will not support us at all whatsoever. Exxon is much more skeptical of writing a check to an AIDS organization.”

“The Death Star”: Exxon Mobil
Exxon Mobil’s world headquarters in Irving, a Dallas suburb, are hidden behind a locked, guarded steel gate and an impenetrable enclosure of fences. Towering trees permit only rare glimpses of the top of a looming black building. Some employees call it “The Death Star.”

When a group from Resource Center Dallas, the area’s leading LGBT advocacy organization, approached the building for a rare meeting 15 months ago, it felt as if they were entering a military fortress. “The Mission Impossible theme was rolling through our heads,” recounts Rafael McDonnell.

The most profitable corporation the world has ever known, Exxon is the quintessential Goliath to many a struggling David. In 2012, Exxon posted the second-highest annual corporate profit in history (surpassed only by its own 2008 record): $45 billion—more than the combined profits of Royal Dutch Shell and Wal-Mart Stores, the world’s No. 1 and 2 largest companies that year. If Exxon were a nation and its $450 billion in 2012 revenue its GDP, it would be the 27th largest economy on the planet. In many places, it is considered more powerful than the government. In 2001, President George W. Bush said of Exxon, “Nobody tells those guys what to do.”

Exxon stands out for other reasons, too. Over the past two decades, many of the giants of corporate America have been encouraged (and cajoled) to support and celebrate their LGBT employees and their families. Exxon has refused to join them.

In 2012, and again in 2013, the Human Rights Campaign gave Exxon Mobil a negative 25 out of 100 possible points on its annual Corporate Equality Index. It is the lowest score ever received by any corporation. No other company has ever received a negative score.

Instead, in 2013, the HRC found nearly 90% of Fortune 500 companies had adopted written nondiscrimination policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation, as had 94% of Fortune 100 companies. With the exception of Exxon, all of the Fortune 10 companies have adopted such policies, as have Exxon’s largest oil company competitors. Over 62% of Fortune 500 companies had domestic partner health benefits. Over 70% of the Fortune 100 prohibited discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

Exxon not only failed to meet a single one of these or the other HRC criteria for an LGBT-inclusive workplace, it has also actively worked for 15 years against annual shareholder resolutions calling for such inclusion.

But Exxon isn’t simply stuck in the early ’90s — it has actually erased nondiscriminatory and partner benefit policies in place in companies it has purchased: Mobil Oil Corporation, in 1999, and XTO Energy, in 2010. It is the only company known to have ever permanently done so.

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