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WASHINGTON, DC – International relief and development organization Oxfam America called on the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) to swiftly finalize a regional mining code that would help protect the basic rights of local communities when oil and mining companies want to move in.
The call came as a bipartisan group of ten members of the US Congress sent a letter to the ECOWAS leadership and the presidents of member countries to urge them to move forward with the development and adoption of the ECOWAS Mining Code as expeditiously as possible.
“An ECOWAS mining code is desperately needed to protect the rights of communities to express their free, prior and informed consent when facing mining companies,” said Keith Slack, Oxfam America’s global program manager for extractive industries. “For the millions of people living near mining sites across West Africa – many who struggle to survive on less than $2 a day— the resource curse doesn’t mean a share of the wealth, it means environmental damage, loss of land and human rights abuses.”
Revenues from the mining and oil industry form an important part of the economies of many West African countries, but too often, poor communities have no say in the extraction of resources from their land and receive little information about these projects. And instead of this money getting used to build roads, schools and hospitals for Africa’s people, it in fact often leads to human rights abuses, more poverty and powerlessness.
“We are concerned that West Africa’s vast mineral wealth has too often been a source of conflict, violence and corruption,” said the Congressional letter signed by Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ), Karen Bass (D-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Bill Keating (D-MA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Sam Farr (D-CA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), and David Cicilline (D-RI). “We believe that by creating uniform high standards across the region, the ECOWAS Mining Code will make a very significant contribution towards ensuring that West Africa’s mineral wealth benefits its poor populations.”
The Congressional letter also urged the leadership of ECOWAS to not only include a requirement for companies to seek free, prior, and informed consent prior to the beginning of mining operations, but also to disclose the tax and royalty payments to countries for the rights to drill or mine. This is consistent with Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, which requires US and foreign companies registered with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission to publicly report how much they pay governments for access to their oil, gas and minerals.
Transparency in this sector is an un-tapped potential for development,” said Moussa Ba, Oxfam America’s West Africa extractive industries program coordinator. “Armed with the knowledge of how much money oil and mining companies dole out to their governments, African citizens can claim their rights and fight for their own development.”