CONFRONTING THE INDUSTRY
Those involved in the gas industry in Mozambique – fossil fuel companies, purchasers, financiers and contractors, both from public and private institutions, as well as government departments, need to be confronted with the situation they have created.
We do not develop partnerships with these players, negotiate with them, or metaphorically, sit at the table with them. We call them to account, ask them difficult questions, and make them face the facts they keep denying, both in the public sphere and in meetings.
Annual General Meetings (AGMs)
AGMs are the major annual shareholder meetings for the year, where the board of directors discusses the annual report and shareholders vote on resolutions on company policies and leaderships. It is also a space where shareholders, including civil society can make statements. They are also spaces where NGOs sometimes hold disruptive actions, and in some cases, like with the Shell Must Fall campaign, the focus of the actions is for the AGM to not take place at all.
This is a great way of getting the issue of Mozambique gas out to the public. In 2020 and 2021, almost all AGMs were held virtually, but before that we would attend them in person, usually in conjunction with a protest action outside or nearby.
Each year, there is more and more civil society asking questions at AGMs. At some, like the Standard Bank AGM in 2021, the vast majority of the questions came from civil society, a fact that was an angle for the media. It’s clear that these companies are troubled by our attendance.
Attending these AGMs is a way to force the highest level decision-makers in these companies to hear our voices and the voices of the people whose lives they are devastating, to demand information and call them out on their crimes against the climate and peoples in a large public forum that includes their shareholders and employees. It is a way to prevent them from saying “we didn’t know” about the impacts – even though taking active measures to identify potential risks of human rights violations is part of their responsibilities. There is often media at the AGMs of the large companies, giving us another opportunity to bring to the international public the issue of Mozambique gas and the violence and destruction being perpetrated by those who profit from it tremendously.
With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging, most of the AGMs were held online.
The AGMs we have attended over the last few years include those of Eni (Italy) which is co-leading the Coral Liquid Natural gas project with ExxonMobil; Total (France) which is leading the Mozambique LNG Project; Shell (Netherlands), who is purchasing gas; Standard Bank (South Africa), one of the major financiers; and HSBC (UK), another massive financier. While there are some questions specific to each company, many of them are standard. This is because, while Eni, Total and ExxonMobil may be the companies leading the actual gas extraction and responsible for constructing the offshore and onshore facilities, every player involved in the Mozambique gas industry is to some degree responsible for the negative human rights, climate, environmental and socio-economic violations and impacts it has created. Companies and governments involved often try to wriggle out of their responsibilities and accountability by claiming that they are not ‘directly’ responsible for the impacts. This is utter nonsense – without financiers, contractors or confirmed purchasers, the Mozambique gas industry would not exist.
We demand to know why they continue to invest or operate in Cabo Delgado considering the horrific violence and conflict that has been taking place for years between insurgents, the military and private security companies, in which thousands of civilians have been killed and over 800 000 people displaced. We want them to recognise that they have directly created suffering and deeper impoverishment for the communities affected by the project, who have lost their homes and livelihoods, and received no decent jobs; and we ask what is their plan to make reparations. We want them to provide transparent information, something lacking in an industry which is so opaque and secretive.
Company AGMs can be very frustrating events. Directors often dodge questions or answer them insufficiently on purpose, or just pretend they didn’t hear them at all. But in 2021, as with most years, these experiences and actions are more than confronting fossil fuel companies and financiers, they also strengthen civil society’s collective struggle against fossil fuels and the impunity of transnational corporations.
We use these as opportunities to work with other regional and international organisations and movements who are fighting against the same companies or projects for crimes they are committing in the different countries. As partners, we support each other in asking questions, gaining access, publicising on social media and holding protests, and use the opportunity to exchange with each other about the different ways we are campaigning against the same culprits. When we attend as a group, our presence is powerful. As a team, we have more numbers and confidence in our actions inside and outside AGMs, more access to media and more impact if we choose to cause any disruption. If these companies do not want to take the time to talk to us and our comrades, this is a way for us to force them to listen. The strongest outcome of attending AGMs is that we are saying clearly, with a collective voice ‘we are watching you and we are not going away’, while we demand that they leave and stop their profit-mongering activities that are killing peoples and the planet.
Meetings with players
Sometimes we ask for meetings with players in the gas industry, which includes financiers, companies and even governments.
We have held meetings with Standard Bank, Sasol, BNP Paribas, Natixis, US Export-Import Bank, US Development Finance Corporation, Bpi, Japan Export-Import Bank, African Development Bank among several others and the Dutch Ministry for Trade and Development Cooperation and several Danish pension funds.
It is important to note that these meetings are not to ‘sit at the table’ and negotiate outcomes. Fossil fuel players often try to use these meetings as a way to say they have ‘engaged’ with civil society, but in most cases, it is us who approach them for a meeting, not the other way around, and actually getting a meeting is not easy.
More often than not, the meetings turn out to be hostile, a likely outcome considering how different our views are, but they are crucial to show, as with AGMs that we are not going away. We also obtain information from these meetings we otherwise might not have been able to, and again, after we have told them in person about the impacts of the industry, they cannot say that they did not know.
We also hold meetings with parliamentarians, where friendly parliamentarians sometimes ask questions in parliament or congress on our behalf, and this is a good way to raise the issue on a legislative level, and hold the departments who make decisions about public finance or public fossil fuel agencies to account and answer questions to their peers.
For more info see Legal and Legislative
We write letters to decision makers, financiers, companies and governments. Some of these make demands, some ask for information and some explain why the gas industry in Mozambique is a terrible industry to get support. We sometimes receive responses, and sometimes they are followed up with meetings. Other times, when they blatantly refuse to respond, we have had to take the issue to the media or to parliament.
There are instances when the responses are informative, some when they are vague, and times when they are downright rude, like the response from ExxonMobil you can see here.