On 27 April, TotalEnergies announced staggering profits of $6.5bn for the first three months of 2023. Meanwhile, the nonprofit Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) revealed that in 2022, TotalEnergies was one of the five worst companies for projects linked to attacks against human rights defenders (HRDs). The company is developing the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project in Uganda and Tanzania.
According to the records held by the BHRRC, projects operated by TotalEnergies are linked to at least 42 attacks against HRDs since 2015. As many as 14 of these – a third – were committed in 2022 alone.
Specifically, all 13 attacks in 2022 involved activists and defenders fighting against the EACOP project. The French oil giant is the majority shareholder in the pipeline.
Total’s EACOP project
The 1,443km-long pipeline will transport oil from Hoima in Uganda to the port of Tanga in Tanzania for international export. TotalEnergies and EACOP project partner China National Offshore Oil Corporation Ltd (CNOOC) have discovered oil fields with approximately 1.7bn barrels of recoverable oil. These oil fields sit on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Uganda’s national oil company is also involved in the pipeline project.
In September 2022, the Parliament of the European Union (EU) passed a resolution calling for the developers to bring the pipeline development to a halt. It highlighted that the project could have severe impacts on the communities living along the path of the proposed development. Moreover, the resolution suggested that over 100,000 people are at risk of the project displacing them.
A report by Just Finance International identified that communities have already raised issues around insufficient compensation. The project consortium has been acquiring farmland since 2018. Many communities fear that the inadequate compensation will push them into poverty.
As a result, communities and environmental and human rights campaigners have formed an alliance to fight the project. The StopEACOP movement has mobilised multiple protests in Uganda. In addition, it has inspired solidarity actions from groups across the world.
However, Just Finance highlighted that the Ugandan authorities, police, and project subsidiaries have subjected HRDs helping communities in Uganda to increasing criminalisation and safety threats.
As the Canary previously reported, the StopEACOP international coalition of activists and communities has also been calling for investors to shelve the project.
Coordinator of StopEACOP Zaki Mamdoo said that the company’s huge profits for the start of 2023 demonstrated the need to:
stop the flow of money to reckless fossil fuel companies like Total.
On 2 May 2023, British multinational bank Standard Chartered announced it would not finance the pipeline. The announcement followed pressure from the StopEACOP movement. Significantly, this now brings the number of banks who have distanced themselves from the project to 25. Moreover, nine out of ten of TotalEnergies’ top financiers have confirmed they will not back the project.
Mamdoo called Standard Chartered’s announcement “a victory” for the impacted communities and climate activists across the world who have been fighting the project.
He also stated that the EACOP project and Total’s profits showed how:
TotalEnergies is truly heartless in its relentless profiteering on the African continent. The firm’s ever-growing profit margins are generated at the expense of our communities, the natural world, and an exploited African workforce.
Despite multiple banks confirming that they will not finance the project, the BHRRC briefing showed that it has continued to cause violence against communities and activists.
A call for fossil fuel abolition?
Police violently arrested four StopEACOP HRDs in December 2022. They arrested the activists without a warrant during another peaceful demonstration. Between the arrest on 9 December and the morning of 12 December, the police kept one of the activists in an unknown location. The authorities also charged the four defenders with ‘common nuisance’.
The BHRRC briefing revealed that police are the primary perpetrators of attacks. The attacks against StopEACOP HRDs exemplify this. In addition, it identified that authorities’ malicious use of the judicial system to criminalise defenders was the next most common type of attack.
What this highlights is the complicity of the criminal justice system in the physical and systemic violence enacted against human rights and environmental defenders. Moreover, this is part and parcel of racial capitalism. This is a system which innately devalues Black and brown lives and exploits Global South communities for corporate profit.
Evidently, it points to a need to abolish all the oppressive machinery of a system which criminalises HRDs fighting for the rights of marginalised communities. Moreover, this system is enabling corporations to commit violence against them.
Climate justice essayist Mary Annaise Heglar argued that:
We have to get rid of this world where human beings are disposable, but systems that we know to be harmful are indispensable.
The bottom line
In short, the BHRRC report shows that we cannot end the era of fossil fuels without first ending the colonial and capitalist system that underpins it.
Overall, the BHRRC recorded over 550 attacks that companies, governments and unidentifiable perpetrators enacted against HRDs in 2022. On top of this, it found that 75% of these were committed against people protecting land, climate, and environmental rights. These include attacks that companies themselves will have perpetrated against HRDs, as well as those they did not commit directly.
TotalEnergies responded to the BHRRC findings. It said that:
In particular we recognize the important role of Human Rights Defenders… We do not tolerate any threats, intimidation, harassment or violence against those exercising their Human Rights to freedom of expression to protest peacefully against our business or activities.
Yet, as the 13 HRDs awaiting court show, the Ugandan state continues to criminalise pipeline protesters. Furthermore, TotalEnergies is continuing to develop the project in a country violating the rights of its citizens.
Fossil fuel and extractive companies like TotalEnergies claim to engage in due diligence on human rights. In reality, however, they operate in the same ways they have always done. Consequently, marginalised communities like those in the path of the EACOP project continue to pay the price. But as long as it doesn’t impact the company’s bottom line, anything goes.
Feature image via 350.org/Youtube screenshot.
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