PetroChina, the UN and Blood Money

It's expensive to wage genocide. Weapons need to be bought, contract killers must be paid. However, for the genocidal regime in Sudan, expense is not a problem. The government controls the country's oil resources, a valuable commodity in the global marketplace. As Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir boasted, "Just when some countries gave us sanctions, God gave us oil."

The regime is further emboldened thanks to the silent complicity of its largest partner in the exploitation of its oil resources, PetroChina/CNPC. This Chinese oil company is more than happy to turn a blind eye to the fact that it is largely funding the Government of Sudan's six-year reign of terror over its own people in its Darfur region. Labeled genocide by the US Congress in 2004, this massive humanitarian crisis has resulted in the deaths of over 300,000 people, the displacement of at least 2.7 million and the rapes of countless women and young girls.

Clearly, if the senior executives of PetroChina/CNPC, which is controlled by the Chinese government, expressed concerns about the genocide to its partners, Omar al-Bashir and the National Congress Party, they could have a significant impact on the lives of the innocent victims of Darfur. The government of Sudan has a well documented history of susceptibility to economic pressure.

However, in spite of tremendous international outcry directed at the company, including divestment actions by 27 US states, 61 colleges and universities, Members of the European Parliament's pension fund, and PGGM, one of the largest public pension funds in Europe, PetroChina/CNPC has not lifted a finger to use its influence to help the desperately suffering people of Darfur.

Instead, PetroChina/CNPC has been taking disingenuous steps to improve the public perception of its track record on corporate social responsibility. For the last two years, the company has published Corporate Social Responsibility reports , although those reports conspicuously lack any mention of the human rights crisis in Darfur. PetroChina has even become a participant in the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption.

According to the UNGC website , Principle One of the Compact states that "businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights." Principle Two states that "businesses should make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses." PetroChina becoming a signatory to such laudable principles flies in the face of the company's total abdication of responsibility regarding the genocide in Darfur.

That's why, on January 7, a group of over 80 civil society organizations led by Investors Against Genocide and Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations issued an open letter supporting a formal complaint to the UN Global Compact about PetroChina/CNPC. The complaint, which was submitted according to the UNGC's Integrity Measures asks the UNGC to use its "good offices" to influence PetroChina to do the right thing in the face of genocide. If after three months, there is no satisfactory resolution of the issues raised, the group requests that the Global Compact "consider PetroChina's participation to be detrimental to the reputation and integrity of the Global Compact and remove the company from the list of participants."

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon seems to share the civil society groups' concern that signatories to the Global Compact should uphold the principles upon which the Compact was founded. In his remarks on December 15 to the Global Compact Board at a meeting in New York, Ban said, "When we met for the first time in this room more than a year-and-a-half ago, I called on you to ensure that the momentum of the Global Compact is not lost on the slippery slope of the lowest common denominator. This is now more urgent than ever. In particular, I will be relying on you to further refine the good measures that have been taken to strengthen the quality and accountability of the corporate commitment to the Compact. As we move forward, it will be critical that the integrity of the initiative and the credibility of this Organization remain beyond reproach."

In an April 2008 report, John Ruggie, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative for business and human rights, specifically addressed the issue of financial support for genocide. The report states, "The Global Compact also suggests that businesses establish clear safeguards to ensure that if financial or material support is provided to security forces it is not used to violate human rights." Similarly, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has written, "A company is complicit in human rights abuses if it authorizes, tolerates, or knowingly ignores human rights abuses committed by an entity associated with it."

The complaint against PetroChina/CNPC may or may not prompt the company to live up to the principles it espouses by its participation in the UN Global Compact. However, the issues raised by the complaint should prompt the broader international business community to reflect on its own practices regarding genocide. Looking back, what companies would condone funding Zyklon-B gas for the Nazis or machetes for the genocide in Rwanda? Similarly, companies today should not stand idly by while their money funds genocide. While ethical business practices may mean different things to different companies, one hopes that all can agree to draw the line at funding genocide.