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Still trying to follow the money

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Oxfam America is running banner ads on news web sites this week to encourage oil companies to support strong rules that will encourage more transparency in the industry.

A week ago we launched our latest effort to promote transparency in the oil, gas, and mining industries with an on-line petition calling on oil companies to stop blocking new rules by the Securities and Exchange Commission designed to implement the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Bill. Since then more than 14,000 people have signed the petition, and hundreds of our supporters are sharing their views on Twitter and Facebook to help us promote the campaign.

The objective of the campaign is to encourage strong rules that will respect the law and honor the intent of Dodd-Frank: make payments by oil, gas, and mining companies to governments public so that people in poor communities producing precious natural resources can get a sense of where all the money goes.

It’s surprisingly difficult to track this money. In 2007 I visited a town in far western Mali and asked the mayor a question: how much of his town’s US$500,000 annual budget comes from the massive gold mine in his town? He could not say.

We’ve been trying to get major mining, oil, and gas companies to declare their payments to governments so that mayors like the one I met in Mali can try to track how much of the money in their budgets actually comes from mines, oil wells, and gas pipelines in their communities. This level of transparency might help answer a basic question: Are these types of projects helping end poverty, or not?

We achieved a major victory in our campaign for transparency in 2010 when the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Bill included a section requiring companies subject to US Securities and Exchange Commission rules to declare payments to governments. Since then we’ve been waiting for the new SEC rules that will implement the law. They’ve been delayed, and delayed again…

This month we’re on the campaign trail again — we learned that the American Petroleum Institute (the oil industry lobbying arm) is urging the SEC to come out with a weak rule, full of exceptions that will render Dodd-Frank impotent, or else face a lawsuit. This is a clear attempt to defy Congress, the American people, and President Obama who signed the law.

To call attention to this campaign, and urge the public to sign the petition, we’ve staged two events: The first was in Washington, in front of the SEC office, just before Valentine’s Day, and the second was in Houston at Chevron’s headquarters.

As part of the campaign to promote financial transparency, Oxfam America ran an advertisement in the print copy of the Wall Street Journal on February 14th, and is running on-line, animated banner ads in a number of web sites through the 25th of February.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, oil companies attempted to seduce the SEC at the commission’s headquarters in Washington, DC. Photo by Keith Lane/Oxfam America.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, oil companies attempted to seduce the SEC at the commission’s headquarters in Washington, DC. Photo by Keith Lane/Oxfam America.
Transparency is not monkey business: Activists outside Chevron’s headquarters in Houston. Photo by Scott Dalton/Oxfam America.
Transparency is not monkey business: Activists outside Chevron’s headquarters in Houston. Photo by Scott Dalton/Oxfam America.

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