Multinationals accused of fueling resource conflict

By Macharia Kamau

Nairobi, Kenya: Multinational companies operating in the region have been accused of gross human rights violations. Now, a human rights lobby warns that this could escalate if the issues are not handled in the early stages.

 Companies operating in oil and gas, mining, ICT and agriculture have been identified as among the worst offenders. They are accused of abusing the rights of employees and the communities within which they operate.

Exploiting the regions

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre in a new report warns that the ‘resource curse’ is inevitable, given the manner in which firms that are exploiting the regions’ new found oil and mineral wealth. The UK based organisation noted that increased investments in the extractive and agricultural sectors in east Africa has also seen a sudden rise in the number of complaints of abuses by both the workers and local communities.

The report titled ‘Steep Rise in Allegations of Human Rights Abuse as Boom in Investment Brings Hope of Prosperity’ notes the surge in investments has advanced disregard for the rights of the people most directly affected.

“The threat of the infamous ‘Resource Curse’ hangs heavy over East Africa. Something is wrong when a boom in inward investment in oil, gas, and large-scale agriculture leads to the five-fold leap in allegations of company abuse that we have seen,” said Phil Bloomer, executive director Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

Among the areas of concern include the secrecy in Public Sharing Contracts that regional governments have with oil, gas and mining companies. Oil companies that have been doing exploration works in Kenya and Uganda are now moving to start production but revenue sharing among the governments; oil companies and the local communities are still unclear.

“The growing oil and natural gas industry has a huge potential to improve livelihoods but can be a source of conflict if these resources are mismanaged,” said the report released Saturday. “Some of the prevalent concerns include transparency in revenue management, sharing of royalties with local communities, access to information, environmental degradation and lack of consultation with communities in oil-rich regions.” The companies are also accused of secrecy in their operations that could fuel conflict within the communities.

The organisation also said there has been a surge in the number of complaints by communities. “In Uganda, since work on a refinery, exploration and other steps to exploit the country’s oil have begun in earnest, we have seen a five-fold increase in complaints about the industry’s local impacts… ” said the report.

“If new oil finds in other countries such as Kenya and Malawi are not managed with greater transparency and community participation, we can expect to see similar concerns raised by local communities there, with possibilities of protests, violence and significant delays.”

Sexual harassment

The report also raises concerns about the impacts of mining, including displacement of communities, violence against local residents, and pollution. Sexual harassment and abuse of women have been reported on flower and tea farms in Kenya.

“We have seen a six-fold increase in complaints about land rights, labour rights and other issues in agricultural production for food  and beverage, bio-fuel and tobacco firms (2012-2014 complaints to which we sought responses, compared to the previous three years,” said the report.