Last month the U.S. State Department announced that Chevron was a finalist for the Secretary of State’s “Award for Corporate Excellence.” Because Chevron is implicated in too many human rights and environmental disasters to enumerate here – the True Cost of Chevron annual report give a good overview of their misdeeds in Myanmar (Burma), Nigeria, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, and elsewhere – clearly the State Department is using a different notion of “corporate excellence” than most people would.

In fact, they are. Although the State Department says that the award is meant to honor companies who act as “good corporate citizens” and use “exemplary practices,” the nominations were not done on the basis of the company’s overall operations. Instead, the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar nominated Chevron based on its humanitarian projects there, involving healthcare and local economic development.

I don’t know anything about these particular projects, but I feel strongly that this is the wrong way to go about promoting corporate responsibility. As ERI has pointed out in a letter to the State Department yesterday, a company can’t simply offset irresponsible practices in its profit-making operations with a couple of humanitarian corporate philanthropy projects. Truly responsible corporations use “exemplary practices” in all their operations – and Chevron clearly doesn’t.

Update: Chevron fails to win State Department’s Award for Corporate Excellence