After joining bp as a human rights expert in 2012, Nili Safavi was involved in the first publication of bp’s Business and Human Rights Policy back in 2013. Now manager of human rights and social performance, she gives an insight into what’s new in the updated policy and how it has evolved to fit bp today.
Personally, I’m hugely excited to see our human rights work evolve alongside our net zero ambition and our new purpose, ‘for people and our planet’.
Respecting our workforce and local communities is absolutely key to enabling a fair energy transition – making sure they are not left behind as we move from traditional fossil fuels to newer sources of energy, but rather that we work with government, civil society, trades unions and others to enable them to thrive through opportunities to be reskilled, support for jobs and livelihoods and benefit from future resources.
bp’s commitment to respecting human rights is already enshrined in our values. Seven years after releasing our initial Human Rights Policy it was time to expand on certain key commitments and how we deliver them.
I think what’s distinct about right now is that human rights issues have been pushed to the fore. COVID-19 has magnified why we need a policy like ours. We are seeing that if the most vulnerable in society don’t have social protections, a decent wage and access to healthcare, it affects us all. The recent tragic events in the US also point to how important it is that bp plays its part in making societies more just and fair and tolerant, where everyone has equal access to opportunity and is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of gender, faith, ethnicity, sexuality or background.
Essentially, it’s about respecting people’s rights in all our business activities and that goes hand in hand with our new purpose – we want to help the world reach net zero and improve people’s lives.
We were one of the first oil and gas companies to put out a policy on how business respects human rights. We were finding our way and the language reflected that. But things have changed, and we progressed, so it was time for an update. The world has moved on too; areas that we hadn’t thought to include in the original policy are now expected by our investors, our stakeholders and civil society.
bp now not only says that we respect everyone’s human rights, but also specifically calls out the rights of groups that may be more vulnerable. For example, the LGBT+ community, women in parts of the developing world, minorities and indigenous people.
Also, the policy wasn’t always explicit about certain terminology. Our procurement teams have done a lot of work to help our suppliers understand what we actually mean by ‘human rights’ and incorporate that into pre-contract due diligence questionnaires and contractual agreements. It’s hard to get things on the ground fixed without being really clear about what we mean when we say ‘no modern slavery or no human trafficking’, for example – this is what we have now through our recently published Labour Rights and Modern Slavery Principles.
Finally, we’re now explicit about how we respect key aspects of human rights that are material to the work that we do, for example, water and sanitation, land, indigenous peoples and human rights defenders (HRDs).
Yes, this is another exciting update for me. HRDs are people out in their communities speaking up against injustices and advocating for what they think is fair and right. They often put themselves at risk to support the very universally agreed human rights, open societies and rule of law that many of us take for granted. They look for support from companies like bp, so I’m proud that our policy states that where we think it could be beneficial to do so, we may choose to act to support them.
When we embarked on this, we didn’t know Bernard was going to be CEO and we didn’t know about bp’s new purpose and ambition.
Then, there was an opportunity to expand into the purpose, which calls for greater transparency, improving people’s lives, the net-zero ambition. So, we questioned, ‘how much further can we go with this policy?’
The biggest challenge is probably how much of this is dependent on what’s going on in your host country. Poor human rights situations can occur despite good intentions – if a country has no means to support those intents; for example, access to clean water, education, etc. Or if a host government doesn’t promote and protect worker rights or land rights in line with international norms and conventions, for example, it’s harder for us to get things right in practice. We play our part, but it’s a collaborative effort and it can be hard to strike the balance. That is exactly why we have a Human Rights Policy to guide us to do what’s right in difficult situations.
With the UK still in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Nili is pictured in her garden at home
Often, it’s an engagement process with our partners, suppliers and host governments, to help them understand what’s important to us and why it’s better for business. This is why clear policies, codes and requirements are important – to set out distinctly ‘this is what it means to bp’.
There are many examples. Most recently, we have made a significant effort to respect and protect the rights of our contracted workforces in Oman and Malaysia, among other places.
Also, I want to mention our daily efforts in Indonesia and Australia to have respectful and positive relationships with indigenous and Aboriginal communities.
And, how we are helping communities gain access to fundamental utilities, such as water in Senegal. (See below to find out more.)
Workers at the Khazzan tight gas project in Oman
Independent assessments at the Khazzan and Ghazeer fields identified a number of issues impacting our contracted workforce, including passport retention, recruitment fees and issues with worker contracts. Having worked with contractor companies to put in place policies prohibiting forced labour and developed action plans to reduce the risk of modern slavery, we strengthened our own controls and monitoring conditions, raised worker awareness of rights at work, and required contractor companies to conduct self-verification, which is regularly reviewed by bp. As a result, the number of workers charged recruitment fees when mobilized to site has significantly reduced over the past two years, workers either hold their own passports or have free access to them, and have contracts in a language they understand that are in line with or better than conditions at point of recruitment.
Port Klang in Malaysia
In Malaysia, an audit at the bp Port Klang lubricants plant highlighted issues faced by its foreign contractor workers, including unlawful recruitment fees, salary deductions and unclear or nonexistent formal recruitment policies, processes and terms of employment. In response a number of new measures were introduced. These included training for plant management on modern slavery and labour rights risks, training for contractor companies and support to help them develop and implement corrective actions, and daily site ‘walkovers’ by bp site supervisors who engage with workers, inform them of their rights and encourage them to raise any issues.
Water is delivered by canoe to the river island of Ndiago in Mauritania during the COVID-19 crisis
In Mauritania and Senegal, the local team has consulted with local communities near our Tortue project to try to understand their needs and the impact of our activities. This dialogue has produced a strong relationship with neighbours to our sites. And as a result, recently during the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, we were able to step in and help protect a local community’s access to clean water. bp is also funding the upgrade of the water supply infrastructure for villages in the region, which will improve the volume and reliability of drinking water to around 7,000 people.
A fisherman in Tangguh
We support efforts to improve the quality of life for the local communities around our Tangguh LNG plant in Papua Barat province. This includes working with local companies and the government to provide reliable and constant access to energy that powers hospitals. We also buy local produce and fish worth $2.1 million a year to feed the workers at our operations. This is built on strong foundations of respecting the rights of people in local communities, who are primarily indigenous.
Novita O.K. who joined Tangguh’s Papuan Apprentice Programme that trains bp’s operations and maintenance technicians
bp continues its commitment to forge respectful relationships with Aboriginal communities
BP is committed to embedding reconciliation in the way we do business every day. We do this by understanding and respecting the specific rights and cultural ties that Aboriginal groups have to their ancestral lands. Our latest Reconciliation Action Plan sets out bp’s objectives and areas where we can build on progress already made. These include commitments to: