‘Oil and Money 2016’ is not a conference, it’s a crime scene

17 October 2016 - 1:45pm
War on Want in the news

By Seb Munoz, international programmes officer, War on Want. An edited version of this article was first carried by the Independent.

As fossil fuel bosses sink free booze and scoff complimentary canapés in London this week, their companies leave a trail of destruction in their wake. So why is the UK rolling out the red carpet?

Executives from BP, Shell, Exxon and other major oil and gas companies from across the world meet in London this week for the ‘Oil and Money’ conference. The theme of this year’s meeting: 'Boom, Bust and Beyond: Strategies for Survival’. 

But whose survival are we talking about: that of an industry that breeds havoc and misery for so many people or the survival of communities that simply seek justice and to live the dignity. We cannot have both.

As industry delegates discuss the challenges of the “oil price downturn” and their “strategies for survival,” it is patently obvious that the continued success of these companies is predicated on the devastation of the environment and with the destruction of communities in the global South.

The annual event is a kick in the teeth for the communities of the global South that are being driven off their land and forced to endure the destruction of their environment and exhaustion of their natural resources on which they depend.

It has been widely documented how the extractives industry routinely disrupts and destroys lives and livelihoods, fuels violence and conflict, and intensifies deadly climate change.

Consider Colombia, where in one region alone, Casanare, the operations of some of the world’s major oil companies have proved devastating. From construction of pipelines which have led to soil erosion, spoiled crops and polluted fish ponds; to the financing of the Colombian army during a time when the army’s documented link to paramilitary death-squads was said to have triggered the assassinations of over 3,000 community members and trade union activists.

Or take Algeria, where despite the horrific civil war during the 1990s, oil and gas companies, such as BP and Total, signed lucrative contracts that bolstered the government as it unleashed violence across the country. By putting their profits first, these companies were complicit in the Algerian regime’s ‘dirty war’.

While the UK declares itself a ‘climate leader’, it is the country with the greatest historical responsibility for climate change. It’s a scandal that London should play host to morally bankrupt companies, whose fortunes rest on a colonial style carve-up of the planet, and a trail of human rights abuses. Yet, it is unsurprising.

Successive UK governments, whether Labour or Conservative, have long used their power and influence to ensure British mining companies gain access to the world’s raw materials. The ‘new scramble for Africa’ has seen 101 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, most of them British, now collectively control £800billion worth of Africa’s most valuable resources. A situation made possible through the UK government’s trade and investment policies, and the ever revolving door between Whitehall and British mining companies.

Predictably, this comes at cost, and surprise, surprise, it is not born by those sinking the free booze and scoffing the complimentary canapés in London this week.

In Africa, for instance, British companies are at the forefront of environmental degradation whose mining operations have been associated with killings, forced resettlement programmes and labour rights abuses

‘Oil and Money 2016’ is not a conference, it’s a crime scene. The UK must stop rolling out the red carpet for the oil and gas industry to whitewash its crimes.

It is time for governments to act to protect the rights of people affected by this industry, rather than protecting the profits of corporations exploiting them.  The voices of those affected must heard if their survival is to be secured.

 

 

 

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