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Feature: Oil companies and social commitment – which way now?

So far, my best advert for the year is one that appeared in the UK Financial Times newspaper of May 22, 2013.

The simple and straight to the point advert by Chevron read in part, “Oil companies should support the communities they’re a part of.”

I found it very interesting that Chevron, an oil giant and a world-class employer, should be drawing the world’s attention to such social commitment via media advertising.

What are they doing right and who is guilty of what since adverts never stand in a vacuum?

As part of the advert which was jointly signed by the Executive Director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and the Executive Vice-President of Chevron responsible for Policy and Planning, the two went on to add: “We agree”.

Yes, both executives are confirming via the advert that it is an undeniable fact that oil companies should support the communities they exist in. Reading the advert and casting my mind back to what mining, particularly illegal mining, has done to our country, I could not help but to agree more with the Chevron advert.

In what perhaps could be said to be their statement of claim, the Chevron advert goes on to list some of the support the oil company has given to some of the communities they have operated in.

According to the half page advert with a beautiful picture of a coloured woman hugging her content baby, the advert claimed that they have helped provide micro loans to thousands of entrepreneurs in Angola, funded polytechnic universities in Indonesia and played a part in saving 8.7 million lives through their support to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The advert continued: “We are making a difference where it matters, because the truth is, our business depends on thriving communities.”  What a bold statement!
So really, speaking for themselves, an oil giant operating across the world is admitting that their prosperity is co-linked to the prosperity of their communities?

We thank Chevron for the bold and revealing reminder.  Maybe they are speaking to communities and governments of oil-producing countries.

They could even be speaking to other oil companies of their kind who are not as socially responsible as they are and reminding them of the heavy indebtedness of extractive industries such as oil to the communities in which they operate.

Perhaps too, the advert is an exclusive prompting countries that have made new discoveries in oil.  Whoever is the ultimate target, much as the advert was placed in a media thousands of miles away, it felt quite close enough and the more I read it, the more it made meaning to me as I put my country, Ghana, in perspective.

Ghana is one of the latest additions to the list of oil producing countries in the world.  Already, some think tanks have raised eye brows and are challenging the oil income that has so far accrued to the country.

Others too have commented on the kind of contracts that Ghana entered into with the oil exploration companies saying these were not in the best interest of the country.  On top of such concerns, the Chevron advert is specifically drawing minds to the social licences that the oil concerns have with the people and the environment.

As we move on, we should be interested in how the oil companies are making a difference where it matters most because from the horse’s own mouth, their business cannot be delinked from the communities from which they take their raw materials and human capital.

Chevron’s advert is not only a good reminder but it is also a kind of gauge for us as a budding oil-producing country.  The bitter experiences of some communities in the developing world where oil is being produced and the experiences of our own past in the area of mining should inform us when it comes to responsibilities towards our communities and the environment.

We have the opportunity to begin a meticulous monitoring of what benefits oil exploration will bring to our communities in the Western Region and Ghana as a whole.

No amount of years of exploration is too short for a country to begin to assess the level of commitment by oil companies within a community.   There is a local parlance which when literally translated  says that if a game will make an impact, the signs of that will begin to manifest in its early stages.

We have the examples of oil-producing countries that have thrived.  So, just as the lives of the people as well as the cities and towns of some of these countries have been transformed for the better, we should begin this early to demand commitment from these oil companies that are drawing their wealth from our communities. It is their duty, whether local or foreign investors and we should not shy away from demanding it.  If we wait and watch till a later date, we do so at our own peril.

It is crucial for us as Ghanaians to understand that it is a duty and not a favour for such investors to commit to the well- being of the communities from which they take their sources of wealth.

Therefore, the level of the social commitment of our oil companies should definitely be a concern, not only to the communities, but indeed to all Ghanaians.

The immediate watchdog roles on behalf of the communities, however, should rest heavily on the shoulders of the local authorities, as well as the Ministry of Energy which exercises an overall responsibility.

The local authorities should have a supervisory role ensuring the communities under their watch are not left deprived in anyway.  The Ministry of Energy has an arduous task exercising a bird’s eye view role to ensure among other things, that the support from the oil companies is impactful and the communities should not in any way be left worse off.

In view of our past experiences, the ministry will even do well to establish a desk whose responsibility, among other things, will be to monitor the impact of their activities on our communities.

By now, the history of communities such as Akwatia, Tarkwa, Prestea and Obuasi, once the shine of the nation as centres for the mining of precious minerals, should give us ample direction as to where we should be heading.  Today, these towns which should have been the Johannesburg of our times have been brought low to mere shadows with their communities left even poorer and deprived.

Do we learn any lessons from our past?  No.  Do our local governments care about the good of the people and our environments?

It seems to me these are never among their priorities because if they were our communities and the environment would have been far better off than we find them today.  Accra is a typical example; engulfed with filth and open gutters we are proud to advertise as a Millennium City.

We all need to be reminded that the businesses of our extractive industries, oil and gas not excepted, are there because our communities exist for them.  As they take out our natural wealth, they should be committed enough to roll back a good proportion of that wealth by caring for our communities.  Well, at least, Chevron agrees that is the truth.

Article by Vicky Wireko

Source: Daily Graphic

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Reporting Oil and Gas project was launched on 4th June 2009atTakoradi, Western Region, Ghana by Penplusbytes (PPB – www.penplusbytes.org) with the vision of providing a one stop online information and knowledge about Ghana’s oil and gas sector
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