(Corrects date of seismic survey in final paragraph)
DAKAR Feb 14 The OECD has offered to mediate
between British oil company Soco International and
conservation group WWF to determine whether exploration in the
last refuge of Congo's mountain gorillas violates the
organisation's ethical standards.
WWF presented a complaint in October saying that Soco's oil
activity in Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site,
violated the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and
Development's (OECD) business guidelines.
Soco, which denies the allegations, and the government of
Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the world's poorest
nations, want to explore the park's potential to generate oil
An initial report by the OECD's British office, released on
Friday, said the WWF complaint raised important questions about
how Soco should meet its obligations to contribute to
sustainable development in Congo and that the issue merited
further examination via mediation.
The OECD said that if the two parties would not agree to
mediation, it would conduct its own investigation to determine
whether Soco was in breach of the guidelines. The OECD has no
power to enforce its standards.
Soco said it respected the OECD complaints process and hoped
mediation would take place "outside the media spotlight".
"The company looks forward to contributing to a further
examination of how sustainable development can be achieved,
whilst addressing the views of the international community
together with the DRC's legitimate right to manage and protect
its own energy resources," it said in a statement.
The WWF said the decision had set a precedent for using the
OECD guidelines as a mechanism for safeguarding the environment.
The OECD report found no specific human rights impact from
Soco's activities and rejected complaints that there had been a
lack of engagement with stakeholders, such as local residents,
UNESCO and non-profit organisations.
It also dismissed WWF's complaint that a clause in Soco's
contract, which exempts it from any tax or environmental
legislation after the contract was signed, was a risk to
environmental and human rights.
The OECD acknowledged that SOCO had committed to
environmental and social standards above the requirements of
existing laws, including the OECD guidelines themselves.
It was concerned, however, that no environmental impact
assessment of activities in the park had been published. In
response, Soco said the Congolese government had now agreed to
make the report public.
Soco is due to begin a month-long seismic survey in March.
"No drilling has been planned or is even warranted", it said.
(Reporting by Daniel Flynn; editing by Jane Baird)