Coalition Letter to Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Concerning Rex Tillerson's Secretary of State Confirmation Hearing

CCR joined 15 civil society organizations in sending a letter to members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations  concerning the confirmation hearing of Mr. Rex Tillerson as the United States Secretary of State, scheduled on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. Read more about it here.


January 9, 2017

The Honorable Bob Corker


Committee on Foreign Relations U.S. Senate

Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Ben Cardin 

Ranking Member

Committee on Foreign Relations U.S. Senate

Washington, DC 20510

Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

423 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510  

Dear Chairman Corker, Ranking Member Cardin, and Members of the Committee on Foreign Relations, 

We, the undersigned organizations, write to express our strong concerns and reservations about the candidacy of Mr. Rex Tillerson as the United States Secretary of State. 

We urge you to use the confirmation hearings to elicit a response from Mr. Tillerson on how, if confirmed, he will uphold America’s international obligations and commitments to the rule of law, respect for human rights and workers’ rights, and protection of the environment.

The U.S. government has a longstanding commitment to promoting human rights, including through joining the UN Human Rights Council in 20161 and endorsing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), a seminal development in recognizing corporations’ human rights responsibilities. In December 2016, the U.S. government further followed up on its commitment to the UNGPs by releasing a National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct.2 The U.S. government also played a pivotal role in the negotiation and adoption of the 2014 Forced Labor Protocol to strengthen protections for the estimated 21 million victims of forced labor, and the Department of State, in particular, has been a leader in combatting trafficking in persons, including in the context of global corporate supply chains. 

It is critical for the United States to maintain a leadership role on human rights, yet the potential appointment of Mr. Tillerson as Secretary of State threatens our ability to do so.

In the past decade, Mr. Tillerson served as the Chief Executive Officer of Exxon Mobil, a company with a dangerous track record on human rights and the environment. Under Mr. Tillerson’s leadership, Exxon has been charged, found guilty, or fined for violating environmental laws across the United States, including in Texas,3 Louisiana,4 California,5 New York,6 Massachusetts,7 Montana,8 Arkansas,9 and New Jersey.10 Since 2010, Exxon has received penalties for skirting U.S. laws totaling more than $81 million dollars.11

In 2015, published reports further revealed that Exxon has engaged in a decades-long campaign to mislead the public and its own investors on the danger of climate change.12 Since the exposé, attorney generals in a number of states have launched investigations against Exxon for potential environmental violations and defrauding investors.13 The company has denied any wrongdoing, and has been fighting the subpoenas through various means, including by suing the attorney generals conducting the investigations for abuse of power.14 Exxon also sought the records of environmental advocates, an insidious tactic aimed at obtaining First Amendment-protected material and chilling the non-governmental organizations’ freedom of expression.15 

In addition to its lack of concern for the environment, Exxon has a history of dubious human rights performance outside of the United States. For instance, to secure profits, the company was allegedly involved in the brutal crackdown on local communities by Indonesian security forces in Aceh, Indonesia from 1998-2001.16 Lawsuits accusing Exxon of complicity in human rights abuses in Aceh are still ongoing after 15 years.17 We note that the United States has filed amicus briefs in this case18 and amicus or intervenor’s in briefs similar human rights cases.19 As Secretary of State, Mr. Tillerson could – and would likely – advocate advancing the interests of corporations over the human rights of impacted persons and communities in future briefs.

Mr. Tillerson’s close relationship with the Russian government is an additional concern, not just for well-publicized national security reasons but also because of the Russian government’s treatment of its citizens. Russia’s human rights record has deteriorated in the past year, with authorities intensifying crackdown on civil society groups, political dissidents, and LGBT rights activists.20 Mr. Tillerson’s close links to Kremlin may impede his ability to fulfill his duty as Secretary of State to promote human rights in Russia and countries within Russia’s sphere of influence.21

As our nation’s highest-ranking diplomat, the Secretary of State is tasked with upholding and promoting America’s international obligations and commitments to the rule of law, respect for human rights and workers’ rights, and protection of the environment. Given Exxon’s track record under Mr. Tillerson’s leadership, we express grave concerns and reservations over his ability to support such principles as a flagship of American policy.

As such, we urge you to use the confirmation process to elicit views and commitments from Mr. Tillerson for the following:

If confirmed as Secretary of State, 

1)    Will Mr. Tillerson uphold human rights as a key priority of U.S. foreign policy and ensure U.S. compliance with international obligations? Through which steps?

2)    Will Mr. Tillerson ensure American business is subject to high standards of performance on human rights, and held accountable when involved in human rights abuses? Through which steps?

3)    Will Mr. Tillerson continue to support, with resources, time, and commitment, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL)? Through which steps?

4)    DRL has proven especially prominent and effective through its annual country reports on human rights. These reports are comprehensive and widely respected in addressing political and civil rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights. Will Mr. Tillerson continue to support, with resources, time, and commitment, this work being done by DRL? Through which steps?

5)    The Department of State plays an important role in promoting labor rights and enhancing economic security and working conditions for workers abroad. Will Mr. Tillerson continue to support and strengthen international labor standards and fundamental principles and rights at work? Through which steps?

6)    Will Mr. Tillerson support and expand upon the National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct developed under the Obama Administration? Through which steps?

We are thankful for your consideration, and look to you to safeguard the United States’ commitment to our shard values of rule of law, respect for human rights and workers’ rights, and protection of the environment.


Amazon Watch

Center for Constitutional Rights

Coalition of Immokalee Workers

EarthRights International

Earthworks EG Justice FIDH

Global Witness Greenpeace USA

The International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)

International Rights Advocates

Jewish World Watch Mercy Investment Services

Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment

Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER)

Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment



1 United States Election to the Human Rights Council, U.S. DEP’T OF STATE (Oct. 28, 2016),

2 Fact Sheet: National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct, THE WHITE HOUSE (Dec. 16, 2016), responsible-business-conduct.

3 ExxonMobil Pays $6M Penalty Following Air Pollution Violations/ ExxonMobil failed to comply with court-ordered Clean Air Act agreement at refineries in Southern California, Texas, and Louisiana, U. S. EVNTL PROTECTION AGENCY (Dec. 17, 2008), 1fd285257522006fef92%21OpenDocument&Highlight=2,Exxonmobil.

4 Id.

5 Id.; U.S. EPA fines Exxon Mobil $2.64 million for PCB release, U. S. EVNTL PROTECTION AGENCY (Aug. 21, 2008), 4700e852574ac006f4537!OpenDocument.

6 Mireya Navarro, City Awarded $105 Million in Exxon Mobil Lawsuit, N.Y. TIMES (Oct. 19, 2009),

7 ExxonMobil Charged in Boston Harbor Oil Spill, DEP’T OF JUST. (Dec. 23, 2008),

8 U.S. Department of Transportation Proposes $1.7 Million in Civil Penalties for ExxonMobil for Yellowstone River Pipeline Failure, PIPELINE AND HAZARDOUS MATERIALS SAFETY ADMIN. (Mar. 25, 2013), vgnextoid=df3b5c7ea789d310VgnVCM100000d2c97898RCRD&vgnextchannel=d248724dd7d6c010 VgnVCM10000080e8a8c0RCRD&vgnextfmt=print

9 Notice of Probable Violation and Proposed Compliance Order, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (Nov.  6, 2013), 35027_NOPV%20&%20PCO_11062013.pdf.

10 Benjamin Weiser, New Jersey’s $225 Million Settlement With Exxon Mobil Is Approved, N.Y. TIMES (Aug. 25, 2015), mobil-is-approved.html?_r=0.

11 Violation Tracker Parent Company Summary: Exxon Mobil, GOOD JOBS FIRST, (last visited Jan. 8, 2017). 12 Brady Dennis, Investigation broadens into whether Exxon Mobil misled public, investors on climate change, WASH. POST (Mar. 31, 2016), broadens-into-whether-exxon-mobil-misled-public-investors-on-climate- change/?utm_term=.ac9f211a4220.

13 Justice Gillis & Clifford Krauss, Exxon Mobil Investigated for Possible Climate Change Lies by New York Attorney General, N.Y. TIMES (Nov. 5, 2015), over-climate-statements.html; Ivan Penn, California to investigate whether Exxon Mobil lied about climate-change risks, L.A. TIMES (Jan. 20, 2016),; John Schwartz, Exxon Mobil Climate Change Inquiry in New York Gains Allies, N.Y. TIMES (Mar. 29, 2016), prosecutors.html

14 David Hasemyer, Exxon Sues a Second Attorney General To Fight Off Climate Fraud Probe, INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS (Jun. 16, 2016), climate-change-fraud-investigation.

15 David Hasemyer, Climate Advocates Fight Back Against Exxon's Subpoenas, INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS (Dec. 9, 2016), investigation-350-bill-mckibben-rex-tillerson-lamar-smith-science.

16 Doe v. Exxon Mobil Corp, 2006 WL 516744 (D.D.C. Mar. 2, 2006).

17 ExxonMobil lawsuit (re Aceh), BUS. & HUM. RTS.   RESOURCE CENTRE, (last visited Jan. 8, 2017); Exxon Human Rights Case Survives — on Claim that Execs Knew All Along, 100 REPORTERS (July 16, 2015),

18 See, e.g., Exxon Mobil Corp. v Doe., Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae (U.S. 07-81) available at

19 See, e.g., Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting Petitioners (U.S. 10-1491) available at

20 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, WORLD REPORT 2016: RUSSIA (2016), available  at

21 Matt Egan, Julia Horowitz & Chris Isidore, Behind the deep ties between Exxon's Rex Tillerson and Russia, CNN MONEY (Dec. 11, 2016), exxon-russia-putin/.

Last modified 

January 10, 2017