White hairs and diplomacy as coalition seeks consensus

by katherine-baldwin | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 2 March 2011 20:29 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Views clash on a U.S. law forcing mining and energy firms to disclose payments

As you’d expect at a forum that pulls together the world’s largest oil companies and the world’s smallest civil society organisations, not everyone is going to agree on everything.

That was the case on Wednesday at the fifth global conference of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in Paris, where delegates aired differing views on a U.S. law that some believe will strengthen the EITI and others argue will weaken and could even destroy it.

But in keeping with a body that champions transparency, the EITI did not seek to disguise the differences of opinion held by its board members.

The bone of contention was the Dodd-Frank Act – the U.S. law passed last year that will require mining and energy companies listed in the United States to disclose all payments to foreign governments.

The EITI, in contrast, is a voluntary initiative launched in 2002 under which companies agree to publish what they pay and governments agree to disclose what they receive.

Civil society organisations are largely in favour of mandatory legislation along the lines of Dodd-Frank and want Europe and Africa to follow suit. Many oil and mining companies, however, are against it.

“I think it was very good this morning the way it was transparent,” said Clare Short, the incoming EITI chair, following a plenary session in which Peter Voser, chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, spoke out against Dodd-Frank while other panellists supported it.

Voser argued the Dodd-Frank bill had been rushed through, was unclear, threatened countries’ sovereignty by encouraging industry to violate national laws and took the power away from civil society that the EITI had worked hard to build up.

Tony Hodge, president of the International Council for Mining and Metals, an umbrella group for the mining and metals industry, also expressed concerns about the Dodd-Frank legislation and questioned its design in an interview with TrustLaw.

“That’s the nature of the coalition,” Short told a news conference, asked how the EITI was going to speak with one voice as it sought to press Europe to enact similar legislation. “No one pretends there’s unanimity or that everyone is coming from same position but the collaboration is very powerful and that’s the strength of it.”

Short was sat between Voser and Simon Taylor, the founding director of key EITI player Global Witness, who, in the morning’s plenary, had called the Dodd-Frank Act “a magnificent leap forward” that should be replicated across Europe, Africa and elsewhere.

“Beyond the collaboration there will be some differences of opinion and that will go forward and some people will continue to argue,” added Short, who, as a former member of the government of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is well practised in managing differing opinions.

“We’re not embarrassed. We know we’re different constituents and yet there is a great deal of collaboration and that tension and argument will take us forward.”

Peter Eigen, outgoing EITI chair, welcomed the U.S. legislation and said such differences of opinion did not stop the EITI coalition from working together.

He said trying to maintain a consensus between the various sides of the coalition had been a “very interesting process”, adding that the process was “why I have white hair” and warning Short to expect a similar hair colour as she took over the EITI’s reins.

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