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.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
- Chapter II
- Chapter II Paragraph A14
- Chapter II Paragraph A5
- Chapter IV
- Chapter IV Paragraph 5
- Chapter VI
- Chapter VI Chapeau
- Chapter VI Paragraph 2 a
- Chapter VI Paragraph 2 b
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.