WWF alleges British oil company violated environmental and human rights provisions in Virunga.
Soco’s exploration in Virunga violates OECD guidelines, WWF alleges
October 2013. WWF has filed a complaint alleging that British oil company Soco International PLC has breached international corporate social responsibility standards. WWF contends that, in the course of Soco’s oil exploration activities in and around Virunga National Park, the company has violated environmental and human rights provisions of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
“Soco’s operations are putting Virunga’s people, animals and habitats at risk. The only way for Soco to come into compliance with the OECD guidelines is for the company to end all exploration in Virunga for good,” said Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Conservation at WWF International. “We urge the company to stop its activities immediately.”
Soco allegedly has used state security forces to intimidate opponents, and has failed to disclose during community consultations vital information about potential environmental and health impacts of its exploration. Further, the company’s contract contains a clause effectively exempting it from future laws aimed at protecting human rights and the environment.
Soco’s own impact assessment shows that oil exploration could cause pollution, damage habitats and bring poaching to this fragile ecosystem. It could also harm residents’ health and damage the natural resources upon which 50,000 people depend.
Highest biodiversity in Africa
Virunga National Park is the most biodiverse protected area in Africa and one of the continent’s oldest World Heritage Sites. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee maintains that oil exploration is inconsistent with the World Heritage Convention, and has called for the cancellation of all Virunga oil permits.
“By nominating Virunga as a World Heritage Site, the DRC government made a legal commitment to the international community to conserve the park for future generations,” WWF’s OECD complaint says. By entering the park for oil exploration, Soco has breached OECD guidelines urging respect for national laws and international treaties, WWF contends.
Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Virunga National Park is located, is an active conflict zone. Both OECD and the UN recommend that companies operating in areas of weak governance take particular care to ensure that their operations do not compromise human rights. Soco has provided no evidence that it has undertaken proper human rights due diligence.
The OECD guidelines applies to all multinational enterprises operating in or from adhering countries. UK is a founding member of OECD, which was established by governments in 1961 to advance economic and social wellbeing worldwide. A WWF report found that Virunga National Park could be worth US$1.1 billion per year if developed sustainably and could be the source of 45,000 permanent jobs for residents.
SOCO International plc is aware of the complaint raised by the WWF to The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (“OECD”). SOCO welcomes the scrutiny of such a well respected 3rd party organisation and takes this matter extremely seriously. SOCO would like to make it clear that all alleged breaches of the voluntary guidelines raised are absolutely ill-founded, tendentious and not supported by the facts.
For the record SOCO has not commenced any operational activities and would not consider doing so until all environmental studies were fully completed. This will leave a considerable amount of time to continue meaningful open engagement opportunities. SOCO has already conducted a locally dedicated communications campaign successfully reaching out to over 10 local villages during 2012.
SOCO has recently commenced environmental studies on Lake Edward. The environmental studies include fish and mollusc baseline studies and respond to concerns that have been expressed regarding the impact of potential future exploration activities in the region. These studies have been determined through close collaboration with the Congolese Wildlife Authority (also known as “Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature” or “ICCN”) who are the managers of the Virunga National Park and the Congo Environmental Studies Group (also known as “Groupe d’Etudes Environnementales du Congo” or “GEEC”) and have been approved by the Government of the DRC. SOCO has also recently commenced social projects to help to improve the basic living conditions for the local population around Lake Edward; these projects, which include the provision of communications infrastructure and medical aid programmes, were determined after a period of engagement with the local communities and local and national government.
The OECD guideline’s state that abiding by domestic law is the first obligation of enterprises and the guidelines are not a substitute nor should they be considered to override domestic law and regulation. SOCO would like to make it clear that its operations abide by all the laws and regulations set out by the Government of the DRC
SOCO’s goal is to be a positive presence wherever it has operations and it has an excellent history of operating in Africa and in South East Asia. No oil exploration activities have commenced to date on Block V. (source)