Acorn Notes

Issue No. 18, February 2014

Considering Human Rights: Trends and Lessons in Oil and Gas Impact Assessments

By: Kerry Ground

The International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA) released its guide to integrating human rights into environmental, social and health impact assessments (ESHIA) late 2013.  The guide highlights how human rights issues relating to cultural values, livelihoods and access to basic human needs can be impacted by hydrocarbon exploration and production (E&P) activities worldwide.

Key human rights considerations in E&P include:

  • Resettlement or economic displacement
  • Use of force by security
  • Fair/safe labor conditions
  • Fair contracting and hiring practices
  • Access to clean water and other public resource needs

IPIECA’s guide is a timely and welcome tool.  Our experience in performing over 100 ESHIAs for E&P projects worldwide, many in environments with significant human rights concerns, tells us that implementing the recommended practices will require overcoming some important, on-the-ground challenges:

  • There is growing industry awareness of the importance of managing human rights; but this has not yet resulted in consistent application of HRIAs as either an element in ESHIA or in stand-alone studies (the IPIECA guide will help here).
  • Scoping human rights issues into ESHIA is difficult as project teams do not always see the business relevance of assessing potential human rights risks.
  • Lack of understanding about human rights considerations sometimes results in a defensive / denial response (e.g., "Our project won’t do that [have human rights impacts]").
  • There are not always clearly drawn lines to show who is responsible for human rights abuses, and companies face a serious reputational risk if they are accused (sometimes wrongfully) for the actions of others, such as government or partners/subsidiaries (see Kiobel v. Shell or Bowoto v. Chevron Corp.).
  • Including HRIAs raises considerably the likelihood that careful, nuanced local stakeholder engagement will be required to complete the assessment. This can appear "scary" and a challenge some project teams might seek to avoid.
  • Human rights experts aren’t typically employed by companies that perform ESHIAs; however organizations that focus on and have human rights expertise lack ESHIA experience - not enough examples of the two working together.

Advantages and Challenges of an Integrated ESHIA1

Advantages - Challenges

What will it take to overcome these challenges?  Continued persistence, awareness building and patience, for a start.  In our experience, some specific practices that may help are:

  • Broadcasting top management expectations that managing human rights as part of integrated ESH project planning is imperative to managing the company’s business on every project, in every operation
  • Integrating human rights considerations and management practices into existing management systems and due diligence in contract review procedures
  • Recognizing that human rights is a cross-cutting issue and therefore tailored training will be needed for applicable departments (i.e., security, legal, human resources, HSE, etc.)
  • Conducting early human rights screenings to help determine the level of HR effort/expertise and stakeholder engagement needed in the ESHIA process
  • Being careful when collecting primary data (e.g., interviews, questionnaires) to use wording and methods that avoid cultural sensitivities
  • Understanding sensitivities from local perspectives, and applying good international industry practice (GIIP) within this context

Acorn International LLC delivers social and environmental risk management consulting services to the extractive industries and investors worldwide.  With experience conducting more than 100 ESHIAs in over 35 countries, we look forward to engaging in continuous improvement for the industry and helping our clients better manage their risks related to human rights.   


1 Adapted from: IPIECA. 2013. Integrating human rights into environmental, social and health impact assessments. Accessed 7 February 2014.

Acorn International Notes

Acorn Notes is a series of periodic papers to share ideas regarding EHSS and sustainability management for international industry.

Issue 21 - March 2014: Above-ground Facilities and Stakeholder Engagement: Deploying the 'CAC'
Issue 20 - March 2014: A Starting Point for Shared Equity
Issue 19 - March 2014: What It Takes to Run a Great Consulting Firm
Issue 18 - February 2014: Considering Human Rights - Trends and Lessons in Oil and Gas Impact Assessments
Issue 17 - June 2013: Managing Environmental Health in International Development Projects
Issue 16 - January 2013: Integrating Environmental and Social Performance throughout the Project Lifecycle
Issue 15 - January 2013: The State of Shale Play in 2013
Issue 14 - August 2012: Building Environmental and Social Governance in Host Countries
Issue 13 - May 2012: Human Rights and Business: A New Era
Issue 12 - February 2012: Extractive Industries Confront Pressure for Greater Transparency
Issue 11 - January 2012: Key Updates to the IFC Sustainability Policy and Performance Standards
Issue 10 - June 2011: Oil & Gas and NGOs: New Rules of Engagement?
Issue 9 - February 2010: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 8 - January 2009: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 7 - May 2008: Top Ten Lessons Learned About Health Impact Assessment
Issue 6 - January 2008: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 5 - September 2007: Results of web forum with our International Partners
Issue 4 - January 2007: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 3 - May 2006: Suggestions and tips for safe international travel
Issue 2 - January 2006: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 1 - November 2005: The Top 10 "unspoken" criteria for determining the success of EIAs


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