Any of our business? Human Rights and the UK private sector - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by BP


  1.  National governments and international law provide the ultimate protection of human rights—and their definition. Business cannot supplant this role. The duty of national and international companies alike is to comply fully with the legal and constitutional frameworks which governments have established. For international companies, the responsibility is wider, since we operate across jurisdictions and in countries with varying levels of respect for human rights. BP freely acknowledges that, in the conduct of our business, we must always have regard to the human rights impact of our activities. This entails acting in a manner which respects the human rights of those who are involved and affected by our business activities, including those who work for us and the communities and countries in which we operate.

  2.  In this submission, BP will provide details of how we put this into practice, and especially the way in which, through a variety of mechanisms, we incorporate human rights considerations within our business activities.


  3.  It was lessons learnt in Colombia which provided BP with the impetus for a wider consideration of the impact of our business upon human rights. In the mid 1990s, we were criticised for alleged acts of wrongdoing relating to security issues in Colombia. Following our own and independent investigations, it was concluded that there was no basis to the allegations made of inappropriate ties between BP and illegal paramilitary groups. However, spurred by this experience, we took a number of steps to develop internal 'process' with the intention of ensuring that considerations of human rights are embedded within our business practice.

  4.  Thus, BP's objective is now always to incorporate human rights requirements within processes and policies governing all business activity, including the behavioural expectations of those who work for the company. The main elements of this broad framework include the need for clear policy positions which are articulated and backed-up by supporting developed processes; for ensuring that human rights requirements are enshrined in third party procurement and contracts, particularly in high risk areas; and for the provision of independent monitoring, assurance and reporting techniques.

A.  Clear policy positions and processes

  5.  Some years ago BP communicated, through a Human Rights Guidance note to staff, our clear support for the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and our expectations on how these should be enforced in our operations—specifically in relation to employees, communities and in the provision of security. We have since embedded our commitment to respect human rights through various policies and practices.

  6.  For example, BP's code of conduct outlines our commitment to fair employment and equal employment opportunity, and to the provision of a safe and secure work environment; and expresses our commitment to engage in open and transparent dialogue and consultation with communities and other representatives of civil society. We also make a very explicit statement against the use of child labour and forced and compulsory labour. The code establishes principles for business conduct applicable throughout the Group, regardless of location. Where differences exist as the result of local customs, norms, laws or regulations, we apply either the code or local requirements—whichever sets the highest standard of behaviour. This Code is strictly enforced and employees are provided with a mechanism to report confidentially breaches of the Code

  7.  Additionally, we are in the process of developing a new Group practice applicable to all major new projects with the aim of including social factors (along with environmental, cultural and historical factors) in the screening of major project risks. This new practice includes requirements to consider questions such as the provision of security, the rights of indigenous peoples, involuntary resettlement and worker welfare and items related to natural resource rights or environmental justice, such as water. Several new projects have used these social indicators when screening for environmental and social risks. The findings have helped projects to identify the most important social and environmental risks when performing the impact assessments. By embedding the new screening requirements within our Operating Management System, we are reinforcing our commitment to ensure such issues are considered, along with technical risks, from the very early stages of planning a project. This new practice emphasises that reviewing and mitigating social risks is an important issue for us and our stakeholders.

B.  Third Party Procurement and Contracts, particularly in high risk areas

  8.  Considerations of human rights also inform our relationship with third parties (including Government and Security Forces, suppliers and business partners), particularly where we believe such considerations help to reduce a significant business operating risk either to BP's reputation or through potential project delays. Also, our ability to influence such third parties can have a direct and indirect effect of improving the overall human rights situation in these areas. The most relevant third party arrangements relevant to this debate are provisions in certain major projects agreements; the supplier procurement process; and in the provision of security.

  9.  Several of BP's significant investment agreements include provisions on human rights. For example, the bilateral security protocol for our operations in Azerbaijan ensures that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Code of Conduct for law enforcement officials, and the United Nations basic principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials are part of the legal framework for our Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli oil project, the Shah Deniz gas project, the South Caucasus gas pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.

  10.  We have also agreed with the Government of Azerbaijan that this bilateral security protocol will extend the application of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights to all the assets there for future operations. At the Tangguh LNG project in Indonesia, a commitment to follow human rights principles and procedures which are consistent with the Voluntary Principles is included in the Joint Security Guidelines, an agreement signed with the Papuan police. Similar commitments are included in the formal agreements with the Colombian Ministry of Defence in the Exploration and Production Project in Casanare, Colombia.

  11.  In the supply and procurement area, we are currently working towards the development of more common processes for assessing suppliers and qualifying them to work with us. This is intended to cover issues relating to human rights as well as employment conditions and diversity.

  12.  This process is informed by our experience in China where we have already begun to screen potential suppliers to examine their human rights practices. Companies under consideration as potential suppliers are sent questionnaires which cover working conditions. In 2008, we audited 25 potential suppliers and rejected five for social compliance or safety issues. The principles and practices learned in China have been incorporated in a global common sourcing process which, starting this year, will be implemented across BP.

  13.  The provision of security is one of the most challenging and sensitive areas. In 2000, BP joined other leading oil, gas and mining companies, non-governmental organizations and the US and UK Governments in developing the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. BP was one of the founding members of the Voluntary Principles and we have gained experience in putting these principles into practice in several of our major operations and projects. This includes risk assessment exercises in Algeria, contracting with private security providers in Georgia, supporting human rights training for public security in Azerbaijan and internal audit of Voluntary Principles management practice in Colombia.

  14.  At the end of 2008, we codified this experience in the BP's Voluntary Principles Implementation Guideline. This aims to make implementation more effective and consistent by providing practical tools for businesses and by integrating guidance as much as possible into BP's management systems. The guideline, which consists of seven elements addressing risk identification, mitigation, performance evaluation and improvement, has been made available on BP's website as dynamic content that will be updated and improved periodically.

C.  Independent monitoring, assurance and reporting.

  15.  Often, an external perspective of our performance enhances credibility and demonstrates to external stakeholders the extent to which we are seeking to manage risks such as human rights. In that regard, BP has occasionally sought the help of independent experts to provide scrutiny and advice on projects with complex environmental, economic and social issues.

  16.  In Indonesia, for example, the Tangguh Independent Advisory Panel (TIAP), chaired by former US Senator George Mitchell, published last year its sixth report on the non-commercial aspects of the Tangguh liquefied natural gas project in West Papua, Indonesia. TIAP's reports have provided advice on the Project's impacts on the local community and environment, including such topics as security, employment, education and health. In the 2008 report, TIAP noted that, in respect of most of those Papuans affected by it, support for the project remained strong. It said that residents of villages who have been resettled in new locations are benefiting from new homes, employment, better health and education. Other directly affected villages have also benefited. However, there was criticism of the Project's programmes as villagers adjusted to changes affecting their traditional fishing economy and in-migration to the villages.

  17.  A human rights risk or impact assessment may also become necessary when a project occurs in a particularly challenging environment, especially when, for example, there have been allegations of human rights abuses either by state or non state actors; or where the project's impact on the indigenous population is high because of fundamental issues such as involuntary re-settlement or because of increased contact with the outside world. BP considered such an exercise necessary prior to the start of construction in Tangguh. The results of the study conducted in association with leading US human rights experts provided insight into the human rights related impacts (such as specific indigenous, labour and security issues) which the project needed to address and ameliorate so as to create benefit for the local community. The subsequent BP project development was shaped to take the findings into consideration and the TIAP report mentioned above referred to the positive progress.


  18.  First, we acknowledge the work of Professor John Ruggie, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Business & Human Rights. We supported the initial phase of his work by seconding one of our staff to support his research effort. He has helped to bring clarity to this contentious issue which previously had been characterised by sharply divided opinions on the scope, scale and accountability of business in the matter of human rights. We support him in his continuing task, and we re-iterate his assertion that it is the State which has a duty to protect citizens against human rights abuses by third parties, including corporations.

  19.  There will always be a sensitive line between the role of business in respecting human rights, and the role of home and host governments in defining and enforcing them, particularly for companies like BP which operate in multiple jurisdictions. Consistent with our support for the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, BP insists upon a framework of ethical practice (embracing a respect for human rights) in all our business activities, and including those conducted indirectly on our behalf. However, as a business, we must be cautious of imposing BP's standards upon activities outside our legitimate sphere of control. Our best contribution is to lead by example through rigorous enforcement of our internal code in all our external interactions.

  20.  We believe firmly that voluntary, multi-stakeholder efforts are the most effective means of promoting positive change in human rights practices at the operating level. While legislation has a role, the engagement of all stakeholders is essential if a genuine improvement in human rights standards is to be achieved.

  21.  We also believe that further development of the Voluntary Principles is required. This initiative is already having success, both in term of the number of companies engaged and in finalising the rules of governance. Key governmental support and encouragement should also be given to finalising performance and reporting criteria so that companies are held accountable to their obligations under the initiative.

  22.  A primary requirement for business is to demonstrate a transparent and rigorous internal process embedding the protection and enhancement of human rights, including mechanisms for redress, in all its operations. Such a process will serve in the long term to both protect and enhance the general well-being of the communities in which business operates—including their civil and human rights.

  23.  BP's goal is to make a positive difference in the societies in which we operate through genuine partnerships that seek to create mutual advantage. Ultimately it is our ability to engage with local stakeholders, including governments, which enable us to create an opportunity for improvement. Such dialogue, supported by our strong internal process, is the most effective way of enabling business to contribute as a progressive force towards a wider and higher acceptance of human rights in all areas applicable to economic development.

30 April 2009

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