U.S. Government Keynote Remarks at the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights Annual Plenary Meeting
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Thanks to Gare for that introduction. And thanks to the Government of Colombia for its willingness and help in hosting this plenary session in Colombia. As I think everyone knows, this is first time we have organized a VPs plenary in a country that hosts a wide variety of international companies working in the extractives business. The presentations yesterday on the Colombian experience and the huge turnout for that event shows just how relevant and useful the VPs can be in a country like Colombia, and we hope that it inspires other countries with similar challenges to join the VPs Initiative and apply the VPs to their own situations.
The U.S. government is pleased to have been government chair of the VPs Initiative for the past year. On behalf of Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.S. government, I want to relay my thanks to all of you for the exceptional cooperation and hard work you have shown us over the course of our chairmanship. We think it resulted in some important progress, and I want to briefly share some of that with you today.
As the Government Chair over the last year, we set out to make progress on three primary goals: (1) to promote participation in the VPs process, (2) to improve accountability and transparency among VPs members, and (3) to strengthen implementation of the VPs on the ground.
Let me provide a brief summary of what we think has been accomplished on each.
1. PROMOTING PARTICIPATION
As we all agree, expanding and strengthening the participation of governments, NGOs, and companies in the VPs process is essential to realizing its full potential.
This year we welcomed several new members to the VPs and continued to work with other new members to strengthen implementation efforts.
On the government side, we were very happy to recently receive Argentina’s application to join the VPs Initiative. Thank you, Argentina. With vibrant extractive industries and the third largest shale oil and gas reserves in the world, Argentina’s membership in the VPs will be an important addition to the process and we hope it will elevate interest in the VPs in the region. Each of the pillars will be reviewing Argentina’s application over the next few weeks, and we hope to formally welcome Argentina into the process in the near future.
There was also government outreach on the VPs to a variety of other governments, including Angola, Burma, Chile, Cote D’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique, Mongolia, Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Indeed, representatives of some of those countries are with us here today. A warm welcome to all of you. We hope that like Argentina, you, too, will consider formally joining the VPs process and we would encourage you to ask questions or raise concerns during your time with any of us over the next couple of days.
We also saw several new corporate participants join the VPs Initiative this year, including two companies based in Africa – Seven Energy and Alphamin – as well as Goldcorp and Woodside Energy. These additions demonstrate that the VPs Initiative continues to be an attractive and valuable process for companies, and we urge all participants to work with these new members to help them incorporate the VPs into their own ways of doing business.
In the NGO pillar, we transferred one NGO – LITE Africa – from an engaged participant to full participant. There was also a cross-pillar effort, which is nearly final, to develop an NGO strategy to identify the pillar’s objectives and to bolster its outreach to national NGOs and advocacy organizations. When we begin to implement this NGO strategy, it should help us to build a stronger NGO pillar, which in turn will provide us with greater familiarity with the concerns of impacted communities as well as the independent perspectives of civil society, which adds to the overall credibility of the initiative.
2. IMPROVING ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY
Now I will turn to progress on the important topics of transparency and accountability.
Transparency and accountability have come to be seen as key ingredients to any successful multi-stakeholder initiative and they are also of fundamental importance to the U.S. government. They have indeed become a benchmark by which all multi-stakeholder initiatives are evaluated.
Among other places, the importance of these factors have been reflected in the increasing number of National Action Plans on business and human rights, including our own forthcoming one, as well as in last summer’s G7 statements on responsible business conduct and the importance of multistakeholder initiatives.
Over the past year we began piloting the VPs’ verification frameworks for each pillar. These frameworks are meant to help participants support and validate implementation of and adherence to the Principles. They facilitate information sharing within the Initiative about VPs implementation and improve our ability to promote the Initiative externally. We also think that they help us learn from each other on how best to implement the VPs.
Over the last few months, we have had six presentations under the verification frameworks from a mix of companies, governments, and NGO, and we will hear six more tomorrow. Those presentations done to date have yielded a useful exchange of information and views, and we hope all of you will participate in the sessions tomorrow and provide constructive feedback to the presenters. We look forward to continuing to strengthen the frameworks, and encourage all companies to opt into the verification process and to publicly indicate their intent to do so.
Over the last year VPs participants also updated the VPs Reporting Guidelines and Entry Frameworks. The Reporting Guidelines are critical to providing more guidance to participants on the type of information they should include in their Annual Reports with the objective of ensuring stronger and more consistent reports. Also, in updating the Entry Frameworks we have emphasized the high standards we expect from those who join the VPs.
In line with our objective of more transparency, since 2012 the U.S. government has published a public version of our own VPs Annual Report and we encourage other participants to do the same. Last year we saw a handful of participants submit a public report, and anticipate even more this year.
3. STRENGTHENING IMPLEMENTATION
The last focus of our chair was strengthening the implementation of the VPs on the ground.
In the national context, there were several successful efforts to strengthen VPs implementation. In particular, I want to highlight experiences in Ghana, Peru, the DRC and Angola.
In 2014, we saw Ghana become the first African government to join the VPs Initiative and this year it became the first in Africa to submit a draft VPs National Action Plan. Thank you, Ghana, for your continued leadership and commitment.
The U.S. government continues to collaborate with Ghana through various VPs-related initiatives. My bureau is currently funding a program to build civil society capacity to support VPs implementation in Ghana as the government carries out its National Action Plan. The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and others in the State Department are also developing a first-of-its kind training focused on strengthening VPs-related courses for public security providers.
Regarding Peru, the VPs Working Group there has undertaken many significant efforts on VPs implementation with stakeholders from government, civil society, and companies over the past year. Many are here with us today to share their work in the next session. I want to recognize their efforts and encourage all of you to ask questions and learn from their good work to date.
Likewise, in the DRC, there has been lots of work by VPs members over the past year. In October 2015, for instance, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security and Democracy Sarah Sewall hosted a VPs roundtable in Goma to discuss VPs implementation with local communities, and in November, the U.S. Ambassador to the DRC keynoted a VPs conference co-hosted by the U.S. and Swiss Embassies. These overtures were well-received by the DRC Ministry of Mines, which sees the dialogue initiated by the VPs as a critical step in addressing human rights impacts in DRC’s growing extractive sector. We hope it leads to the DRC joining the VPs.
In Angola, the U.S. Embassy worked closely with the Government of the United Kingdom to engage the Government of Angola on the VPs. The Government of Angola leveraged its chairmanship of Kimberley process to drive forward a discussion of the VPs, as well as its own interest in membership. Additionally my bureau’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa Steve Feldstein visited Luanda this summer and met with several Ministers to discuss the value of the VPs, and followed up during the first-ever U.S.-Angola bilateral human rights dialogue in November 2015.
Another key achievement this year was the collaboration among VPs participants to develop a document on “Model Clauses for Agreements between Government Security Forces and Companies with Respect to Security and Human Rights” otherwise known as “MoUs”. The model clauses, which we will hear about later in the session and we hope will be adopted at this Plenary meeting, are designed to be used by government and company VPs participants for inclusion in security agreements where they think they are useful and relevant. We hope this will enhance the ability of VPs participants to enter into security agreements as well as standardize them.
We had an ambitious agenda over the last year. With your help, we made some progress on that agenda. But there is clearly much that remains to be done – on outreach, on implementation, on verification and on governance issues, to name just a few. We look forward to working with the incoming Canadian chair, the Steering Committee and all VPs participants in tackling these challenges. And as we do, we urge everyone to keep in mind that the end result of all this effort is to advance the basic human rights of all who are engaged in or affected by the extractives industry – a goal which I know we all support and will benefit from.