JA! at the AGMs, 2021

Our Say No to Gas! In Mozambique Campaign has many elements, but one of the crucial ones is confronting fossil fuel criminals involved in Mozambique’s gas industry, about the destruction, violence and devastation they have caused in Cabo Delgado province.

One way of challenging them and making demands for them to leave and stop their involvement in Mozambique gas, is attending Annual General Meetings (AGM) of several large international players in the Mozambique gas industry, which this year we did for the fourth year running. 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 attended were 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 was previously involved; 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.

Eni insists they are ‘providing support to the basic needs of local populations’, even when we tell them that the only jobs Mozambicans have received have been menial and unskilled. They say that a mere 370 permanent jobs will be available in total over the life cycle of the Coral LNG project, although they don’t say if these will actually go to Mozambicans.

All companies refuse to see a link between the gas industry and the violence, with Eni even saying they see no risk whatsoever, and denying any human rights violation by the military, even though this had been exposed in mainstream media and international human rights organisations’ reports.

Total, which claimed force majeure in April 2021 due to the violence, putting the Mozambique LNG project on hold indefinitely, made the contradictory remark that the safety and well-being of communities was a priority, but at the same time, “our mission is to protect the interests of Total’s shareholders and our partners”. These are obviously mutually exclusive, as continuing with the project will only continue the violence and dispossession that communities are facing. While they insist that the Mozambique LNG project has not been “abandoned”, they put the responsibility of the impacts on communities solely on the Mozambican government.

Standard Bank also believes that their investments are not at risk because of the violence. Even as people in Cabo Delgado are being killed every week, they carry on with business as usual, as though the militarisation and its accompanying human rights violations creating refugees and forcing displacement, do not matter to them at all. Clearly, even though they use an undisclosed “consortium” of civil society organisations in Cabo Delgado to do “monitoring”, the lives of the rural affected peoples means nothing to them.

HSBC on the other hand, just refused to answer the questions, except to say they cannot talk about private clients and very few jobs will go to Mozambicans because of the project’s “advanced technical requirements”.

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 this year, as with most, 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 company 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.

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