The EIAG commenced engagement following a series of allegations of human rights abuses, bribery and corruption related to SOCO International’s operations in and around Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Church Commissioners and the Pensions Board have persistently raised concerns with SOCO International and its board since November 2013, with engagement intensifying since December 2014. In the course of this period, concerns have specifically addressed four main areas.
Namely the need for the instigation of a wide ranging and transparent independent enquiry addressing the allegations of bribery, corruption and human rights abuses, the lack of independent and effective corporate governance, the adoption of best practice, internationally recognised, environmental and social standards and unequivocal respect for park boundaries within a World Heritage Site.
Adam Matthews, Secretary of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group, who has led on engagement with SOCO International and attended the recent AGM, said: “We are deeply concerned about the failure of SOCO International to properly and fully address our four concerns, in particular to ensure that an open and transparent enquiry is held into the allegations of corruption and human rights abuses. At the recent AGM we asked the board to urgently consider the appointment of an independent Chairman to ensure SOCO could finally openly and transparently address the concerns of shareholders. The response of the Company that has emerged from our engagement and crystallised at the AGM has led us to recommend full divestment.”
Edward Mason, Head of Responsible Investment at the Church Commissioners said: “We have called time because without the changes we sought this is not a sustainable or ethical investment for Church funds. We take engagement with companies very seriously. In this instance SOCO has not responded positively or sincerely to the concerns we have raised. The lack of appropriate corporate governance was clear at the AGM and left us nowhere to go but full divestment. The company has been placed on our restricted list with immediate effect and all our investment managers have been notified.”
Ethical Investment Advisory Group concerns
An Independent Enquiry:
Instigation of a wide ranging and transparent independent enquiry of SOCO’s operations in and around Virunga National Park (specifically addressing the allegations of corruption, bribery and human rights), including the publication of the enquiry scope, outcome and confirmation of any resulting actions.
Amendment of the previously issued statement agreed between SOCO and WWF to remove any room for doubt about SOCO’s intentions within existing or future boundaries of a World Heritage site so that there are, without exception, no circumstances in which SOCO would conduct further exploration or production activities in the Virunga National Park or any other World Heritage site.
Best Practice Standards:
The adoption of best practice environmental and social standards. We remain concerned that the company’s management policies still do not include a commitment to comply with the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and that the company is not a participant in the Voluntary Principles for Security and Human Rights.
A commitment to address concerns relating to the company’s corporate governance, including but not limited to the independence of the chairman.