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Houston Chronicle: Shareholders, protesters alike bring issues

by Lynn J. CookHouston Chronicle
May 17th, 2006

Halliburton's annual meeting turned the tables this year, attracting more shareholders and fewer protesters than last year's gathering in Houston.

Some 200 shareholders attended the Houston-based company's annual meeting on Wednesday, which was moved to a community center in Duncan from its typical venue at a Houston hotel.

The turnout in Duncan, a historic stop on the Chisholm Trail where Halliburton employs 2,400 people, was twice as large as last year's attendance in Houston.

Outside the meeting, roughly 100 demonstrators — only half as many as last year — made the trip to this small company town to protest against Halliburton.

They strummed guitars, chanted "No war for oil" and carried banners questioning Halliburton's billing practices in Iraq and human rights track record.

Sixteen of the protesters were arrested when they rushed a plastic fence perimeter in an attempt to get inside the meeting to question executives.

Katie Heim of the Houston Global Awareness Collective said she was pleased with protester turnout considering the remote location.

"They're like the royals going off to Versailles," she said. "It's time to declare victory. It means they couldn't take the intense public scrutiny, but we want them to know wherever they go, we will be there too."

Halliburton Chairman and CEO Dave Lesar brushed off the idea that moving the shareholder meeting to Duncan, where Halliburton was formed 87 years ago, was an attempt to dodge protests. He called Duncan, with its Halliburton Technology Center, "the creative center of the company to this day."

Shareholders voted to increase the number of board members to 11, up from nine. They also voted to increase the number of Halliburton shares that can be put on the market to 2 billion, up from 1 billion.

Lesar said the company is planning a 2-for-1 stock split within the next two months.

A shareholder proposal brought forward by several Catholic groups requesting that Halliburton add language on human rights to its Code of Business Ethics was roundly defeated.

The board of directors had recommended that shareholders vote down the proposal.

"It is not our purpose as a commercial business enterprise to remake the world in the image of any particular political, legal, moral or religious philosophy with which we are comfortable," the company said.

Pratap Chatterjee, executive director of CorpWatch and author of Iraq, Inc., criticized Lesar for not putting a focus on human rights at Halliburton and ensuring the company's subcontractors do the same.

He said some subcontractors recruit workers from Asia for jobs in Kuwait or other Middle Eastern countries but then force them to do hazardous work in Iraq.

"I've been to Iraq a number of times, and it's a tough place to do work," Lesar told Chatterjee. "I'm proud of our folks there and ... we will continue to support the troops. I think we're just going to respectfully disagree with each other on the rest of your comments."

During the question-and-answer portion of the shareholder meeting, Lesar fielded several questions about Halliburton's government work outside of Iraq.

One shareholder asked for details about a recent contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to build detention and processing centers in the event of an immigration "emergency."

Lesar called the contract, which is valued at up to $385 million, part of a contingency plan.

"There are no plans at this point to actually physically build anything. We don't know when or if or where this contract will be activated," he said.

Another shareholder asked whether Halliburton might go after the port management work recently denied Dubai Ports World, a state-owned company of the United Arab Emirates.

"That is something we are not pursuing or interested in," Lesar said.

After the meeting, Lesar told reporters the reason he has sold almost 500,000 shares of Halliburton stock in the first five months of the year is because he "had not sold stock since I'd become CEO, and I just needed to divest my holdings a bit."

As for any potential plans to leave Halliburton, Lesar said: "Absolutely not. Not voluntarily, anyway."



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