There are many international laws and agreements designed to make extractive companies – whether they are drilling for oil, fracking for gas or mining for minerals – uphold human rights and respect local communities. But despite this, there have been clear cases all over the world of fossil fuel companies breaching human rights standards.
And with large teams of lawyers and PR experts, oil and gas companies are often able to keep the full extent of these rights violations out of the news. At the same time, these companies will often try to boost their brands by publicly signing up to human rights agreements, adopting codes of conduct and appointing ‘Human Rights Advisors’ – while on the ground, little changes.
Shell’s long history of pollution and human rights violations in Nigeria includes collaborating with the Nigerian state to bring about the executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Nine.
BP has been accused of complicity in human rights abuses and environmental damage in Colombia. And although it sold its Colombian assets in 2010, the fight for justice for the people affected by its operations still continues.
‘Iraq is the big oil prospect,’ began the minutes of a meeting at the Foreign Office. ‘BP are desperate to get in there.’ Four months later, a war would begin that would cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and destroy a country. But with about ten percent of the world’s oil beneath its soil, for BP Iraq meant business.
In 2010, Statoil was sued by its own human rights advisor, who claimed that the company had essentially given a false job description, misrepresenting the Human Rights Advisor as a meaningful position when in fact it was just a PR role.
BP’s fracking in Argentina faces strong opposition from local people, including Indigenous Mapuche communities. Argentina has the world’s second biggest reserve of shale gas after China, with resources concentrated in the highlands of Vaca Muerta which has been dubbed a ‘carbon bomb’.