The CEO of French oil giant Total (TOT) says he will attend a controversial business conference in Saudi Arabia this week.
Patrick Pouyanné said Monday that he will go to the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, even though many prominent CEOs — including those from JPMorgan (JPM), HSBC (HSBC), Blackrock (BLK) and Uber — have dropped out. The exodus was sparked by the disappearance and death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“I am convinced that an ‘empty chairs at the table’ strategy serves no useful purpose, especially when it comes to respect for human rights,” Pouyanné said in a statement.
Pouyanné said that while he respects the decision of some business leaders not to attend, he believes that “boycotts and withdrawing investment only hurt the ordinary people of the country.”
“I was invited to attend this economic forum by Khaled Al-Falih, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister, to talk about energy,” he added. “I had told the minister — a very honorable man I have known for a long time — that I would attend, and I wish to fulfill that commitment.”
Earlier this month, Total signed a deal to start working on a $5 billion petrochemical complex in Saudi Arabia with Saudi Aramco, the state oil behemoth. Pouyanné cited that investment as another factor in his decision.
Conference organizers have said it will be business as usual when the conference, known as “Davos in the desert,” starts Tuesday.
Khashoggi was last seen Oct. 2 walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia initially denied involvement in his disappearance. But the kingdom now claims the Washington Post columnist died in a fistfight involving more than a dozen Saudi officials.
CNN’s Zahraa Alkhalisi contributed to this report.