The politics of resources redefined™
The politics of resources redefined™
The politics of resources redefined™
The politics of resources redefined™
The politics of resources redefined™
The politics of resources redefined™
The politics of resources redefined™

‘We will push harder than ever’: Q&A with ethical investor

Bennett Freeman, head of sustainability research at Calvert, a leading US SRI fund manager, discusses critical issues facing extractive firms

Will companies see the light on human rights?

Bennett Freeman has been a key figure in a number of influential initiatives over the past decade to improve sustainability, transparency and respect for human rights in the natural resources industries. He now heads the Sustainability Research Department at the US responsible-investment firm Calvert.

As US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in 1999-2000, he led the multi-stakeholder development of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, which set out standards to guide extractive companies’ security arrangements in zones of conflict. He co-authored one of the world’s first Human Rights Impact Assessments for BP’s Tangguh project in Indonesia. He has also sat on the board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) from 2007-09, representing Oxfam America (of which he is a director), and also serves on the Boards of the Revenue Watch Institute, the Institute for Human Rights and Business, the Genocide Intervention Network and EG Justice (an NGO focused on Equatorial Guinea).

In this wide-ranging interview with Critical Resource he discusses the progress being made by these various initiatives, and the challenges that remain.

Click here for a PDF of the full interview.

Key points include:

On climate change & extractive firms:

  • “We will push harder than ever because we believe as profoundly as ever that climate change poses inescapable risks and irresistible opportunities alike for oil and gas companies.”

On responsible investment: 

  • “We know how difficult it is to move some of the biggest companies on some of the toughest sustainability issues in the world. There are few clear, let alone easy, wins in the shareholder advocacy and corporate engagement business, whether for investors or NGOs.”
  • “[Calvert’s new fund, which invests in Exxon, BP, Shell and others] allows us to acknowledge that progress on many of the most critical global sustainability challenges and opportunities is being made by companies which do not meet all of our traditional criteria, and that more progress is necessary and attainable.”

On the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative: 

  • “The fact that 20 of the 22 implementing countries missed the first-ever validation deadline is very disappointing… I have confidence that the progress can and will be achieved through the EITI, but it will take even longer to achieve than expected as candidate countries demonstrate varying degrees of political will and administrative capacity to meet their commitments.”

On oil companies in Equatorial Guinea: 

  • “The vast majority of the [Equatorial Guinea] island and mainland population alike has yet to benefit from the oil wealth that has flowed to the Obiang family and the small elite surrounding it, with most of the population living on less than $2 a day in a country with per capita income now matching Italy’s.”
  • “[Exxon and other US firms in EG] should view their support for community development programs… as philanthropy that, while laudable, barely touches on the corporate responsibility that they must assume as they operate in EG.”

On the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights: 

  • “I am more optimistic than at any time in the last several years that the determination and leadership necessary to move the VPs forward is finally coming together.”
  • “Governments and companies must reach into their budgets to lift funding beyond the paltry levels at which [the VPs Secretariat] has long languished.”
  • “No less critical… is the adoption of some reasonable and credible form of public reporting. There is no multi-stakeholder initiative worth the name without it, and the VPs can no longer be the exception.”
  • “The time has come to complete the work of construction and to get on with the business of implementation for a battle-scarred initiative that has yet to prove fully its mettle on the ground where it matters most.”

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