Oil giant BP shows contempt for human rights at AGM

2 June 2017 - 3:00pm

“You complain when we’re there and you complain when we’re gone”. BP CEO Bob Dudley

This year’s BP AGM took place on May 17 and was held at ExCel in London. It was a sombre and sobering event, where the company re-affirmed its business-as-usual approach.

In the process it dismissed claims regarding serious human rights abuses; irreparable environmental impacts; and the company’s staggering contribution to climate change.

BP is responsible for 2.5% of all historical greenhouse gas emissions to date. The company’s ambiguous response, though expected, flies in the face of communities which have had to bear the brunt of the injustices linked to BP’s operations – the lack of accountability is concerning.  

Raising voices in the fight against Big Oil

The Oil Justice Project: an initiative organised by War on Want, Deighton Pierce Glynn and the Colombian NGO COS-PACC was present at the AGM.

The initiative seeks to amplify the voices of communities affected by Big Oil in Colombia who are searching for justice for human rights abuses and environmental destruction to their territories.

It does this through raising awareness about historic and ongoing human rights abuses; supporting bottom-up community empowerment initiatives; and engaging in strategic litigation against Big Oil companies at the national and international level.  

BP's violent legacy

For the AGM, we teamed up with the NGO ShareAction  (click here to read their account of what happened); the Colombian Caravana UK Lawyers Group and the communities of the Daniel Abril School for Popular Environmental Investigation (part of the Oil Justice Project) in Colombia, who came together to question the company’s violent legacy and their unpaid debt to social justice in the Casanare region of Colombia.

The questions we asked pushed BP to recognise that at this moment in Colombia’s history – when it seeks to implement a historic peace agreement – truth is a necessary condition for peace and for justice.

The struggle for truth and social justice 

The countless victims of the armed and social conflict in Colombia need to know the truth about what happened to their families and loved ones. This includes clarity on the involvement of multinational companies in those violations and abuses; but primarily it requires a re-building of entire communities with adequate access to basic services which also meet their economic and social needs.

While the questions were being asked at the AGM, Victor Correa, a member of the Colombian House of Representatives, used his position and membership of the Colombian Congressional Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Peace to pursue this matter further, placing it on the agenda for debate. Below, a video of support from Victor Correa.

Below are the questions we asked and the responses we received from the company.

Question 1: Peace and Truth

BP started oil exploration and extraction in Colombia in the 1990s, throughout it’s time in Colombia it made a series of payments to the Colombian army and the Ministry of Defence to provide safety to its installations in the Casanare region. The UN estimates that 3,000 trade union activists were murdered and 6,000 more were disappeared in the Casanare region over the last 30 years. Many of the victims were unionists working in the oil industry, or social leaders in oil-producing regions.  Their violent targeting by government-linked paramilitaries went largely unnoticed outside Colombia because of the civil war raging between the Colombian state and the FARC armed forces.

In 2016 a peace deal was signed between the Colombian government and the FARC, leading to the establishment of a Truth Commission. As we speak today, in the Colombian Congress, the member of the House of Representatives Victor Correa Velez is making an intervention at the Commission of Human Rights, to consider what obligations BP and the oil industry present in Casanare during the last decades have to the peace process. Those obligations would, as a starting point, entail the full public disclosure of BP’s security arrangements at the time.

Will BP agree that if requested by the Colombian Truth Commission, they will provide all the documents involving communications between BP and the Colombian armed forces?  

Question 2 - Social justice after BP departure

In the last quarter BP made higher than expected profits of $1.51 billion. In 2010, BP sold its assets in Colombia for $1.9bn to help pay for the clean-up of Deepwater Horizon. As the company left Colombia, it left a community which continued to live in deep, extreme poverty. According to Colombia’s National Office of Statistics, in 2013 the rate of poverty for Casanare surpassed 56%; rural communities experience rates of poverty reaching 77%. Only 19% of urban areas and 6% of rural areas have access to sewage and clean water. There are also many areas of land affected by historic oil extraction that are polluted or too dry to use for traditional farming. Many children in the region have no buses to get them to school and walk on pot-holed or unmade roads.

We are asking BP as part of its commitment to social responsibility to meet with the organisation Oil Justice, which includes the Colombian community organisation COS-PACC, to discuss establishing a trust fund for the purposes of increasing access to education for the children of Casanare.

BP CEO Bob Dudley said: 

“All of us at BP would deplore what you’ve just outlined. There’s been cases brought against the company related to this matter – all of them have been dropped. We’ve consistently denied knowledge and involvement. This has been heard in the courts, it’s been through the courts. The claimants withdrew their claims. We don’t know what happened in Colombia [about disappearances]. But this is a finished matter; it’s gone through a lot of processes. Now let’s move on – we’ve devoted a lot of time to this question.”

Further concerns were raised regarding the company’s plans to expand into Egypt and in Azerbaijan, two countries with highly questionable regimes, accused of repressing journalists, human rights defenders and anyone who speaks out against them.

These concerns were also waved away with a somewhat cynical insinuation that while governments allowed the company to continue, they would inevitably do so.When pressed with further explanation, the CEO responded:

“You complain when we’re there and you complain when we’re gone”. 

Communities have no choice but to continue seeking justice and re-building their lives and livelihoods even if the company is no longer there, for them, resisting the expansion of the oil and gas industry as it changes and poses new threats in the form of non-conventional extraction methods such as fracking, is a necessary part of that process just in case the company decides to come back. 

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