French energy company Total has increased transparency in its oil projects in Uganda and Tanzania, but Oxfam and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) cautioned that major human rights risks still remain.
On March 8, Total released new information about two major projects in East Africa: the Tilenga oil fields near Lake Albert and the proposed East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) in Uganda and Tanzania. Total published four third-party project reviews and stated its progress toward implementing key recommendations, including those provided by Oxfam, FIDH, and local partners.
“Under pressure from communities upstream and ‘down the line,’ as well as from diverse civil society groups concerned about different aspects of these projects, Total is moving toward transparency,” said Bashir Twesigye, Executive Director of Uganda’s Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED). “These disclosures are essential for more informed decision-making, but real accountability requires real action. Total must proceed with caution and take urgent action in response to the risks outlined in these disclosures and the findings from independent human rights assessments.”
In September 2020, FIDH and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) published New Oil, Same Business? At a Crossroads to Avert Catastrophe in Uganda. At the same time, Oxfam, Global Rights Alert (GRA), CRED, and the Northern Coalition on Extractives and Environment (NCEE) released Empty Promises Down the Line? A Human Rights Impact Assessment of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline. Both community-based human rights impact assessments flagged current and future risks linked to these oil projects and offered companies and governments recommendations for avoiding a human and environmental disaster. Although featured on Total’s website, the reports were independently funded and not commissioned by Total nor by any of its subsidiaries.
“While Total committed last week to progressing on many of these recommendations from Oxfam, FIDH, and our local partners, the risks we highlighted in our reports are still very real,” said Maddalena Neglia, head of the Globalisation and Human Rights Desk at FIDH. “In both Uganda and Tanzania, a large portion of our core recommendations are still unaddressed and the situation for impacted communities remains dire. For each day compensation is delayed, families risk slipping further into poverty. Further steps are needed to adequately compensate people for lost property and land, protect local communities' rights to health, their environment, livelihoods, and civic freedoms, and provide redress to those affected by oil operations in past decades.”
“Total’s disclosures are a necessary first step toward an open and informed conversation about oil development, but the company and its subsidiaries must still take real action to respect the rights of communities at risk in East Africa’s oil frontier,” said John Bosco Thembo, researcher at FHRI.
“Respecting these rights requires communicating remediation measures, accounting for the effectiveness of these measures, and working with Ugandans and Tanzanians to monitor potential impacts highlighted in these and other reports,” said Caroline Brodeur, private sector advisor for Oxfam. “Taking action requires going beyond what is already in place. It means ensuring compensation processes are transparent and timely, responding to grievances, and also listening to those who do not think these projects should proceed.”
Since 2019, Total has faced legal action in France over allegations that it failed to put in place an adequate vigilance plan covering health, safety, environment, and human rights risks as required by French law. Banks have also faced calls not to finance the EACOP.
“Communities living adjacent to oil projects face unequal asymmetries of information – but also of power: providing access to information means nothing if the company fails to use the information to elevate local decision-making, protect the voices of those who disagree with it, and strengthen compensation procedures,” said Siragi Magara Luyima, extractive industries coordinator for Oxfam in Uganda. “With this information, the real question is what will Total do next?”
Note to Editors:
For more information on Total’s disclosures see:
For more on the assessments and recommendations see: