The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, or EITI, is the focus of today’s show. First, we hear from Bennett Freeman, who serves on the EITI board. Then, we hear from Arvind Ganesan of Human Rights Watch, who shares some concerns about EITI with Sea Change Radio Co-Host Bill Baue.
The “resource curse.” That’s the term for “developing” countries whose wealth of natural resources fuels corruption. Oil and mining companies from developed countries pay taxes and other fees that are intended to help governments lift their citizens out of poverty. But some of these payments are siphoned into private pockets — essentially amounting to bribes.
That’s where the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative comes in. At the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair unveiled EITI as a way to combat corruption. The initiative calls for companies to “publish what you pay” and for governments to “publish what you earn.” Any differences between the two point to corruption.
On May 15, the EITI board met in Washington, DC, where President Obama’s Deputy Assistant Michael Froman reported that “the Obama Administration strongly supports EITI.” At that meeting, Albania, Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Zambia were accepted as EITI Candidates. At the EITI Global Conference in February, Azerbaijan was the first (and still only) country accepted as EITI compliant, meaning it has passed a validation assuring it meets transparency standards.
Between these two meetings, Sea Change Radio spoke with Bennett Freeman. He’s Senior Vice President for Social Research and Policy at Calvert, the socially responsible mutual fund firm. He also serves on the board of Oxfam America, as well as the board of EITI. He has deep experience on business and human rights. Freeman served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the State Department under Bill Clinton. After that, he wrote one of the first-ever Human Rights Impact Assessments, for the oil company BP.
Freeman discusses the significance of the recent disclosure by mining company Rio Tinto of its payments to countries where it operates. Publish What You Pay, a UK-based NGO that spurred the whole extractives transparency movement, applauded Rio Tinto while also pushing for deeper disclosure.
Freeman also discusses the Extractive Industries Transparency Disclosure Act (EITDA), proposed last year by Barney Frank (D-MA) in the House and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in the Senate. Freeman says that the bill will be re-introduced this spring, and has greater chance of passage in the current political climate. This legislation highlights the tension in the world of corporate responsibility between voluntary initiatives, such as EITI, and mandatory standards, such as the EITDA.
Arvind Ganesan has a few questions about EITI. He’s director of the business and human rights program at Human Rights Watch, and he’s a regular commentator on Sea Change Radio. Co-host Bill Baue spoke with him earlier this month. He’d just returned from Angola, where he witnessed on-the-ground impacts from corruption. Ganesan also discusses the voluntary/mandatory issue, which he recently wrote about in a Business for Social Responsibility newsletter.