DEVELOPMENT REPORT - Human Rights Agreement for Energy Companies

By Jill Moss

This is the VOA Special English DEVELOPMENT REPORT.

Several international energy and mining companies say they will support new human rights guidelines in developing countries. The measures will honor human rights while protecting company operations in foreign countries. Companies can choose to follow the rules, which will not be legally enforced. The United States, Britain and many international human rights groups support the measures.

Many of the world's energy and minerals are in developing countries experiencing political conflicts. International oil and mineral companies often are targets of critics and extremist groups. The companies or governments sometimes use violent measures against the groups.

Officials say the new guidelines could lead to international laws needed to prevent human rights violations. Some of the most serious problems have happened in Africa. Often the human rights violations are between government troops and private security forces hired by the energy companies. The security forces are needed to protect a company's workers and property. But, officials are questioning what steps a company can take to protect its interests before security measures become human rights violations.

Under the new guidelines, companies promise to examine any charges of human rights violations by their own security forces. They will also push for investigations into any suspected violations by government forces. And, the companies will try to guarantee that their equipment is not misused by government security troops or in human rights violations.

It is not clear if the guidelines will make a difference. American officials say they do not plan to check if companies follow the measures. As a result, some human rights groups say the guidelines do not go far enough. However, they say the measures could provide companies with a guide on how to solve problems while operating in foreign countries.

Several international energy and mining companies have agreed to follow the guidelines. They include Royal Dutch Shell, B-P Amoco, Texaco, Conoco, Chevron, Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold and Rio Tinto. However, the largest oil company in the United States, Exxon Mobil, says it will probably not take part in the agreement.

This Special English development report was written by Jill Moss.

Voice of America Special English