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WWF vs SOCO

Case overview

Date filed 7 October 2013
Current status Agreement
Issue Oil exploration by SOCO in Virunga National Park DRC
Summary of the case WWFs complaint alleges SOCOs oil exploration activities in Virunga National Park (Virunga) do not contribute to sustainable development. According to the complaint, SOCO has disregarded the DRCs legal commitment to preserve Virunga as a World Heritage Site. Since June 2008, the World Heritage Committee has been clear that oil exploration and exploitation activities in Virunga are incompatible with the parks World Heritage Site status.
The complaint also alleges that SOCO negotiated a production sharing contract (PSC) with the DRC government that includes a “full freezing” stabilization clause that effectively exempts it from any new laws or regulations, even those aimed at strengthening protections for human rights, the environment, health and safety, or other policies relating to the pursuit of sustainable development in Virunga.

In addition, WWF alleges that SOCO has not provided any evidence that it has conducted appropriate and systematic human rights due diligence and that it has failed to inform the public about the potential environment, health, and safety risks and impacts of its activities.
Lastly, the complaint alleges that SOCOs community consultations have not been characterised by meaningful two-way communication, and the its use of state security forces during consultations and as promoters of its project has created a ”heightened risk of intimidation” in which many local residents do not feel safe to express their views or concerns.

WWF estimates that to bring SOCOs operations into line with the Guidelines, it will require the immediate cessation of its activities in and around Virunga.
Developments/Outcome The UK NCP accepted the majority of the complaint in February 2014, rejecting only the allegation that SOCO had sought or accepted a legal exemption by accepting the companys claim that it did not intend for the stabilisation clause to be applicable to anything beyond the “fiscal regime”.
The UK NCP hired an external mediator to mediate between the parties. On 11 June 2014, the mediation resulted in an agreement and joint statement by the parties. As part of the statement, SOCO agreed “not to undertake or commission any exploratory or other drilling within Virunga National Park unless UNESCO and the DRC government agree that such activities are not incompatible with its World Heritage status”. SOCO agreed to cease its operations in approximately 30 days.

SOCO also committed never again to jeopardize the value of any other World Heritage Sites anywhere in the world and to undertake environmental impact assessments and human rights due diligence that complies with “international norms and standards and industry best practice, including appropriate levels of community consultation and engagement on the basis of publicly available document”.

The WWF-SOCO agreement represents the first time a company has agreed to halt operations during NCP-facilitated mediation. Despite the agreement, however, SOCO has yet to relinquish its operating permits.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
Case keywords Extractives / mining sector, Seeking/ accepting exemptions, Human rights, Environment, Energy sector

NCP Information

NCP name National Contact Point United Kingdom
NCP address 1-19 Victoria Street SW1H 0ET London, United Kingdom
NCP website www.berr.gov.uk
Other NCPs involved

Complainant

NGO

Company Information

Company responsible Soco
Company address
Company website
Company in violation Soco
Country of operations Congo, The Democratic Republic of the
Other companies involved

Timeline of developments

Date Actor Action Description Document
1 July 2014 National Contact Point United Kingdom statement Final Statement following agreement reached in complaint from WWF International against SOCO International plc. download pdf (487Kb)  
28 June 2014 WWF International press release Advert of WWF download pdf (209Kb)  
11 June 2014 National Contact Point United Kingdom meeting On 11 June 2014, mediation between SOCO and WWF resulted in an agreement and joint statement by the parties. download pdf (57Kb)  
4 March 2014 National Contact Point United Kingdom letter Letter NCP to Soco and WWF download pdf (492Kb)  
18 February 2014 National Contact Point United Kingdom initial assessment The NCP accepts the complaint download pdf (149Kb)  
7 October 2013 WWF International file Complaint filed with UK NCP download pdf (793Kb)  
7 October 2013 WWF International press release Complainants issue press release on filing the complaint download pdf (1123Kb)  
7 October 2013 Soco press release SOCO response to case filed by WWF download pdf (370Kb)  

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