Virunga is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is not only Africa’s oldest national park but also “one of the world’s richest pockets of biodiversity.” UNESCO classified it as a World Heritage Site in 1979.
The park overlaps an area known as Block V, wherein SOCO was granted permission to explore in 2010. Despite the protests of environmentalists, the British oil company began its exploratory work in Block V, running seismic and environmental surveys.
In 2013, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) issued a formal complaint against SOCO, stating that the company had broken the guidelines set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD regulates multinational operations abroad and was founded to “advance economic and social wellbeing worldwide.”
The WWF charged SOCO with violating the environmental and human rights provisions of the OECD, allegedly “us[ing] state security forces to intimidate opponents,” failing to disclose vital information in community consultations, and claiming exemption from future laws that protect human rights and the environment. The company’s own impact assessment admitted to potential damage to the Virunga ecosystem through pollution and poaching, which would affect 50,000 residents.
“Soco’s operations are putting Virunga’s people, animals and habitats at risk,” said Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Conservation at WWF International. “The only way for Soco to come into compliance with the OECD guidelines is for the company to end all exploration in Virunga for good.”
Last week, SOCO entered mediation with the WWF, emerging with the promise that it would end its operations in Virunga. Both parties issued amicable statements.
From David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK: “Today is a victory for our planet. Congolese people around Virunga were joined by scientists, lawyers, activists and artists, governments and WWF supporters to remove the immediate threat of oil exploration.”
From Ed Story, SOCO’s chief executive, said: “Hopefully we can all get back to activities focused on both people and the environment where it does the most good for a place that we think can have a better future.”
On its website, the WWF thanked the 750,000 activists that contributed to its campaign. The organization will use this victory as a precedent to cancel further oil concessions that overlap Virunga.
To donate to the WWF, visit this link.