Major victory in conservation battle against European oil company



Posted on 14 February 2014  | 
Gorila en el Parque Nacional Virunga
© naturepl / Andy Rouse / WWF-CanonEnlarge
 OECD agency accepts WWF’s complaint against UK oil company SOCO’s exploration in Virunga National Park in Congo (DRC). The European Commission also confirms that operations in the area would be illegal under DRC law and under international conventions ratified by DRC.
 
Brussels, Belgium – A major UK corporate social responsibility agency today has announced an examination of the UK oil company Soco International PLC for alleged violations of human rights and environmental protections related to the company’s operations in an African World Heritage Site. 
 
The move was triggered by WWF’s complaint alleging that Soco has breached the most respected global corporate social responsibility standards in its pursuit of oil in Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). WWF’s case has exposed “material and substantiated issues meriting further examination,” a United Kingdom Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) agency said in its initial assessment published today. 
 
In the complaint, WWF documented evidence of Soco’s alleged violations of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises including intimidation, threats and unlawful detention of local activists, as well as withholding critical information about environmental and social risks from those likely to be impacted by the company’s activities. 
 
“Today WWF’s concerns about Soco have been validated. This initial judgement is a victory for conservation and sends a strong warning to any company that thinks it can get away with disregarding international standards,” said Lasse Gustavsson, WWF International Executive Director of Conservation. “We urge governments and the investment community to join us in telling Soco to leave Virunga. If it fails to do so, the company risks permanently damaging its reputation and that of the industry it represents.”
 
The European Commission is currently developing a communication on strengthening the role of the private sector in achieving inclusive and sustainable growth in developing countries. 
 
“This European Union should make EU multinationals accountable for the impacts of their activities outside of the EU and impose the respect of internationally accepted standards and treaties. The private sector can only be an actor in achieving sustainable development if it embraces the rules and goals set by the international community”, said Tony Long, Director of WWF European Policy Office. “Now is the time to put the spotlight on companies that are aggressively pursuing natural resources for profit at the expense of people and the environment in many parts of the world”, 
 
The EU, as well as the United Kingdom, Belgium and Germany have all objected to Soco’s operations in Virunga, and more than 600,000 WWF supporters have signed a petition against the company. Additionally, UNESCO has called for the cancellation of the company’s permit, and French oil giant Total has committed publicly that it will not enter the World Heritage Site. 
 
In a letter addressed to WWF on 17th January 2014 EU Commissioner Piebalgs said:  “We have a regular political dialogue with the Government of DRC on this topic. Our Head of Delegation has repeatedly reaffirmed, in his exchanges with DRC Government, EU's position on the reputational risk for DRC to allow possible operations in the Park which would be illegal under DRC law and under international conventions ratified by DRC.  The Head of the EU delegation has multiplied efforts towards different Ministries and even the Senate and the National Assembly in order to remember DRC commitment to respect the World Heritage Convention and to avoid oil exploration in national Parks and in Virunga in particular”. 
 
Notes for the editor:
 
The UK, as well as the majority of EU Member States are signatories to the OECD guidelines and the European Commission recognises this as the most comprehensive, internationally endorsed set of rules governing the activities of multinationals. 
WWF is the largest organization ever to mount a case against a company using the OECD guidelines complaint mechanism, which applies to enterprises operating in or from any of the 45 nations adhering to the agreement. As part of its mandate to promote responsible development abroad, OECD has developed this transparent process to hold multinational corporations accountable for meeting their obligations. 
Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park and home to more varieties of rare plants and animals than any other protected area in the continent. Although 85 per cent of the park has been allocated as oil concessions, Soco is the only company moving forward with exploration. 
 
 
Gorila en el Parque Nacional Virunga
© naturepl / Andy Rouse / WWF-Canon Enlarge