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Challenges and Opportunities – The Energy Industry and International Human Rights

The energy industry is a favorite whipping boy of both media and politicians. Due to the location of oil and gas in the world, the industry also has to operate in some of the most difficult locations in terms of international human rights violations. The challenges to the energy industry in this area are obvious. A better view, however, may be to consider what opportunities there are for the energy industry to help itself and its standing in media and political discussions on the topic of international human rights.

Such opportunities were discussed by a panel at the Annual Institute of the International Section of the State Bar of Texas in Houston on March 2. Members of the panel talked about how proper due diligence can lead to the identification of opportunities for an energy company to have a positive impact on the human rights of both the indigenous peoples in a location where a project is occurring and all of the workers involved in each phase of the project. If energy companies take advantage of these opportunities, the company and the energy industry will improve their reputations, avoid the types of conflicts that often result in significant delays in projects, and open access to new markets.

As an example, consider Vietnam, one of the many countries in Asia that is considering becoming a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). During a recent visit to Vietnam, I found that while the Vietnamese see the TPP and further investment by energy companies in Vietnam as a potentially significant economic benefit, there is also a real concern that outside companies, including those in the energy industry, will interfere with their chosen form of government and long-established culture. At the same time, Vietnam is still struggling with unexploded land mines and bombs and the debilitating effects of Agent Orange, and could benefit from foreign expertise and assistance. Thus, there are opportunities for non-Vietnamese companies, including companies in the energy industry, to do a great deal of good in Vietnam. While there will be challenges, the opportunities presented for international human rights protection provide for the potential of a positive upside for the energy industry.

Pictured above: Tom Wilson (Partner, Vinson & Elkins, Houston); Lloyd Lipsett (Advisor to the Shift Project, Montreal); Martin Luff (Counsel, Vinson & Elkins, London); Alexander James (Global Manager, Sustainability, Halliburton. Houston)

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.