Uganda: the support of the insurer Marsh for the Eacop pipeline project subject to a complaint to the OECD
Pressure continues to mount on financial institutions associated with the controversial TotalEnergies oil exploration project in Uganda. On Tuesday February 7, the American NGO Inclusive Development International (IDI) and ten Ugandan and Tanzanian organizations – whose names have not been disclosed for fear of reprisals – announced that they had filed a complaint against the insurer Marsh with the OECD for violation of the guiding principles which govern the action of multinationals in terms of respect for human rights and the environment in particular.
Without the support of insurance and reinsurance companies, such as Marsh, the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (Eacop) which will cross Uganda and Tanzania for more than 1,400 kilometers to allow oil extracted near Lake Albert to be exported by the Indian Ocean, could not see the light of day, according to the plaintiffs.
“The role of an insurance broker is often invisible, which allows him to avoid having to face his responsibilities. Marsh’s, however, deserves close scrutiny because, despite widespread opposition and overwhelming evidence that the project will be a disaster for Ugandans and the planet, it allows the Eacop project to move forward., denounces Coleen Scott, on behalf of INI in a press release. Marsh is part of the global Marsh McLennan Group, which employs 85,000 people and has annual sales of $20 billion.
The complaint was received by the US OECD focal point hosted by the State Department in Washington. The latter must first decide on the admissibility of the complaint within three months and then, if this is the case, initiate mediation between the parties in order to reach a possible agreement. Since the OECD guidelines are optional, this initiative cannot lead to a court decision, but for large companies keen to show their commitment to sustainable development, it casts an unfortunate shadow on their reputation. This is a first in the insurance brokerage sector.
On the other hand, several arrests have already targeted oil companies. In 2013, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) seized the OECD on the risks posed by the exploration projects of the British company Soco International in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Park in which TotalEnergies also has a concession.
In Marsh’s case, the lawsuit filed by the NGO coalition alleges that by agreeing to participate in Eacop’s guarantee, the broker is contributing to the serious harm the project claims has already caused or should cause. Among them are listed “inappropriate land acquisition processes characterized by the absence of compensation [des communautés] fast and adequate”, “harassment, intimidation, arrest of peasants, members of NGOs, critical journalists”, “threats to the natural resources on which populations depend to live, and in particular the risk of oil spills affecting freshwater resources, or the increase in CO2 emissions2 that will bring the world closer to a climate catastrophe”. The plaintiffs request that Marsh hand over “its operations in accordance with the OECD guidelines by withdrawing from its brokerage role” for TotalEnergies.
The action taken with the OECD comes on top of the many initiatives taken by civil society organizations both in Africa and in industrialized countries to try to hinder the fossil fuel project of TotalEnergies in Uganda. “The complaint filed today against Marsh is an important step contributing to the international mobilization against Total’s Eacop project. Insurers like Marsh have a clear responsibility in making such climate projects possible. They cannot close their eyes and ignore the multiple evidence of human rights violations and risks of irreversible damage to the environment,” reacted Juliette Renaud, campaign manager for Friends of the Earth France. The organization has, for its part, initiated proceedings against the major for non-compliance with French law on the duty of vigilance. The verdict must be rendered by the Paris court on February 28.