Gwich’in Steering Committee Speaks at Travelers Annual Meeting, Requests U.S. Insurance Giant Not Support Oil and Gas Projects in the Arctic Refuge
For Immediate Release
Hartford, CT – Traveling over 4,300 miles from Alaska to Connecticut, the Gwich’in Steering Committee delivered a statement today at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Travelers, a major U.S. company with a history of underwriting oil and gas projects. Trillium Asset Management, shareholders of Travelers, invited GSC to speak on behalf of their proposal to the company to provide shareholders a racial equity audit.
Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, spoke to shareholder concerns that Travelers’ approach to environmental justice is lacking clarity and transparency. “Travelers is associated with past and current controversies that have alleged racial impacts on stakeholders,” said Demientieff. “We believe these controversies are under-addressed, which opens the company to potential legal, reputational, and regulatory risks.”
During the AGM, Travelers CEO Alan D. Schnitzer said more than once that Travelers does not provide insurance for projects in the Arctic. The company has not made a public commitment specific to the Arctic Refuge and has yet to announce a forward-looking policy to not insure projects there in the future.
“Since 2020, the Gwich’in Steering Committee has been asking Travelers to commit to not insure proposed oil and gas projects in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known to my people as Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit – the Sacred Place Where Life Begins – A beautiful and majestic place that we have been spiritually and culturally connected to for thousands of years,” Demientieff said. “We want Travelers to respect the rights of the Gwich’in and protect the Arctic Refuge, so that we can continue to live and thrive off the land Creator blessed us with. The Gwich’in will not allow the destruction of our homelands. We will always protect our ways of life.”
Following the AGM, the GSC executive director, including members of the GSC Youth Council Lexine Demientieff and Madison Wiehl, attended a rally held outside of the AGM by Connecticut Citizen Action Group, Sierra Club CT and Insure Our Future. The groups have supported Gwich’in engagements with insurance companies, several of which are based in Hartford, to encourage the insurance industry to address harms and impacts from fossil fuel development.
Last year, with support from these and over 240 organizations, the GSC delivered a letter to Travelers and other major U.S. insurers with four requests: 1) public refusal to insure or invest in any energy exploration, development, production, and transportation in the Arctic Refuge; 2) formal policy to prohibit insurance products that support oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge; 3) rule out investments in companies involved in Arctic Refuge development; and 4) comprehensive policy to operationalize Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).
In March of this year, Chubb became the first U.S. insurer to issue policy that protects the Arctic Refuge, bringing the total to 18 global insurers and 29 international banks with such policy after several years of engagement. AIG announced an Arctic policy in 2022, but was unclear whether this encompassed the Arctic Refuge. AIG has not responded to outreach from the Gwich’in Steering Committee and allies.
Read the Full Statement
Delivered by Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee at the Annual General Meeting of Travelers in Hartford, CT, on May 24, 2023.
Van Gwizii. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Board of Directors, and shareholders.
My name is Bernadette Demientieff, the Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. I am here to present Item Number 8, Trillium Asset Management ESG Global Equity Fund’s proposal requesting Travelers’ board of directors to oversee a third-party racial equity audit.
In the past few years, these audits have become a common tool to address racial inequities across industries. More than 30 companies have committed to such audits or have related proposals on their proxy ballots this year. These companies are subject to their own industry’s regulations and have found legal ways to examine parts of their businesses. We ask how Travelers can be the only exception to this approach. The SEC has established two years in a row that it does not concur with the company’s view that implementing the Proposal would cause it to violate state laws.
Travelers is associated with past and current controversies that have alleged racial impacts on stakeholders. We believe these controversies are under-addressed, which opens the company to potential legal, reputational, and regulatory risks.
For example, Travelers appears to lack a robust approach to environmental justice. Since 2020, the Gwich’in Steering Committee has been asking Travelers to commit to not insure proposed oil and gas projects in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known to my people as Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit – the Sacred Place Where Life Begins – A beautiful and majestic place that we have been spiritually and culturally connected to for thousands of years.
Eighteen insurance companies, including most recently Chubb, and twenty nine global banks, including every major American and Canadian bank have committed to not finance or insure oil and gas projects in the Arctic Refuge. ExxonMobil informed shareholders that it has no plans for drilling in the Arctic Refuge, and Chevron, Hilcorp, and 88 Energy canceled leases. The threat continues as one remaining leaseholder intends to drill for oil on land we consider sacred. U.S. law mandates a second lease sale by the end of next year.
We are interconnected to our lands, waters, and animals which sustained us since time immemorial. We want Travelers to respect the rights of the Gwich’in and protect the Arctic Refuge, so that we can continue to live and thrive off the land Creator blessed us with. The Gwich’in will not allow the destruction of our homelands. We will always protect our ways of life.
For all of these reasons we urge Travelers shareholders to vote FOR Item Number 8.
The Gwich’in comprise the northernmost Native Nation living in 15 small villages across Alaska and Canada. Since time immemorial, the Gwich’in have been stewards of these lands, which include the Coastal Plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The 1.5 million-acre Coastal Plain is the calving ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. The Gwich’in people and other Indigenous communities depend on the herd to sustain their way of life, people, and culture.
The Gwich’in Steering Committee has been seeking permanent protections for the Coastal Plain since the 1980s using diverse strategies with a coalition of allies. After decades of bipartisan protection, the Trump administration opened the area to oil and gas leasing in 2017. Although leases were sold in 2021, all energy companies and legacy lease holders walked away from their leases in 2022. However, the Coastal Plain remains under threat until there are permanent protections reinstated. The Alaska state agency AIDEA still holds leases, and the 2017 Tax and Jobs Act mandates a second lease sale to be held by 2024.
To learn more about the advocacy work and campaigns engaging financial institutions that the Gwich’in Steering Committee and allies have led, please visit ourarcticrefuge.org.