GASIN - Unlikely Partners? The value of CSOs and Oil Companies' Collaboration for Environmental Improvement in the Niger Delta: A Key-note Address

Unlikely Partners? The value of CSOs and Oil Companies' Collaboration for Environmental Improvement in the Niger Delta: A Key-note Address

Tuesday, 01 March 2016 00:00
Published in Bulletin - Edition 2
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By Rev. Fr. Edward Obi, MSP, Ph.D (National Coordinator of NACGOND)

I must admit that it is quite a challenge for a Social Scientist to address a room full of Engineers and businessmen. I am taking solace in the fact that this challenge, like every other one, also presents an opportunity for our two worldviews to meet somewhere in the middle.

Just as I struggle sometimes to understand why you arrive at some of your conclusions and execute them even after you have missed so much of what I consider crucial to such a decision, I have no doubt that you too must be struggling to understand why I am so blind to what seems so obvious to you. Rather than get frustrated with one another and let our conversation degenerate into name-calling or something worse, let us continue to struggle with this difficult conversation. One thing is clear though, our paths certainly do cross often.

This is why I raise the question as to whether we are in fact partners in the drive to secure our environment even as we drill for oil and gas. However, in so far as our points of departure are different, our partnership is an unlikely one; but a partnership all the same because of the convergences that our common habitat imposes on us.

This principled partnership between SPDC and NACGOND brings together Civil Society actors to engage with the company for the purpose of pursuing and applying environmental and relationship standards that would both shield communities from the adverse effects of the oil and gas industry, as well as guarantee the company's operations. As far as we are concerned, this is a mutually respectful partnership that should never become so cosy as to obscure its original intent.

Many of us may have heard and, probably, even used the saying, “the business of business is business”. In the past it was used by managers of big business concerns to simplify the complexity of business management, which was seen as that of making profit within the bounds of the law. But, more obliquely, it was also used to reduce the responsibility of corporations to whatever consequences may result in their pursuit of profit and the satisfaction of the shareholder.

This way of looking at things tended to create a duality between the oil and gas business and the societal space or environment in which it was conducted. It tended also to absolutise and isolate the 'business' as such from the numerous other interrelated and interdependent organs of society that contributed to a good business environment. Naturally, this approach was highly resented, and in many cases violently resisted by local communities. But things have changed. Internationally, in the last two decades people have became more aware of the moral responsibilities of corporations to society at large.

There are indications that even here in the Niger Delta oil corporations, on their own, are beginning to take the concept of environmental sustainability seriously. More interestingly, you in Shell are making it part of your strategic planning. Whether this is being done with good moral intent or simply to improve your economic bottom line does not remove the fact that something is being done. In fact, the very presence and participation of a CSO coalition like NACGOND, as well as others at this Stakeholder Workshop shows that Shell and its JV partners have realised that they can no longer act as if people and environment do not matter.

 Our real reason for engaging with Shell, and hopefully with other operators in the future, is to ensure that this forward movement is not truncated by actions or inaction of any of the parties to this resource dialogue.

Were I to go down the pathway of history you would remember that for millennia, human production and consumption of goods and services was carried out all over the globe in rather unrelated ways, separate, distinct and unknown to each other. But when the humble 'adventures' of Marco Polo in the 16th century brought back stories of rich cultures and rare merchandise from remote and far-flung places, a new level and perception of trade relations was attained, which grew rapidly in the last century or so.

Since the end of World War II and the institution of the Marshall Plan, you would agree, a distinct global economy has emerged, and with it has come tremendous economic growth and the increased interdependence that links elements in the system in functional ways. With globalisation and the quantum leaps of communication technology and information flow, there is a shift from the so-called Information Age to the Age of Convergence or Partnership, where the barriers between Governments, Businesses and Communities are being shrunk in favour of openness and interdependence.

The world has become a smaller place and people know exactly what is happening elsewhere in the business world. It is no longer possible, therefore, for an oil and gas company in the Niger Delta to pretend that no one else knows what they are doing. Indeed corporate morality should not depend on whether people see you or not. It should be motivated by the desire to improve the efficiency of your business, and deploy the technology that can best enable you to achieve this.

On the part of stakeholders like community members, there is a fresh new awareness of universal human rights and the awareness of cultural differences between the owners of capital in Shell, for instance, and the owners of the land here in the Niger Delta. This can, however, be used to create a situation of moral and cultural relativism, in which it easier to legitimate industrial practices considered to be unethical in their own home countries, by referring to a so-called 'local ethos,' and to culturally determined interpretations of it in order to rationalise consequences.

On the other hand, among managers, there has also developed “…a relativism of values…awakened by the dominance of emotivism, the belief that moral values and norms are nothing more than the expression of subjective preference….” If this is true, then every manager would determine for him/herself what is good or bad in relation to social and environmental obligations. This double tension is important in understanding the different points of view of both parties in the dialogue of corporate social responsibility.

The bottom line is that corporations, and their mangers, are no longer being considered amoral and absolute, as if operating in a vacuum, for the sole purpose of maximising profits and returns to their shareholders.  In other words, in addition to creating wealth and jobs, corporations are now expected also to improve the living and social standards of the communities in which they live and work, and to protect the environment that provides the raw materials. Thus, “the distinct boundaries of the past are being destroyed by growing awareness of interdependencies. All segments of society, including corporations, are being forced to face the world in its complexity and to deal with it as a whole.”

Finally, because oil and gas companies are made up of people who run them and work them, and because they 'live' among people who let them share their land, water, atmosphere, and even allow their natural resources to be used as raw materials to feed the industry, they must abide by a certain ethics that governs the morality of the workplace, understood here as not only your offices, platforms, well-heads and pipelines, but also the people whose lives are affected by your work.

Therefore the business of business cannot be simply business in the narrow sense in which that term was used before now. The business of business is in fact People and Environment. NACGOND encourages and expects Shell to demonstrate leadership in environmental sustainability and livelihood security for the people affected by your industry.

We remain committed to a partnership that would articulate and promote a new framework for change in the oil and gas sector in Nigeria. Yes, we are Partners!





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