Aviva Investors, World Heritage Sites
We engaged with SOCO International, a FTSE 250 oil and gas company, regarding its operations in Virunga National Park, a designated world heritage site in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We felt its operations in this protected area and the associated reputational impact was damaging for SOCO and, consequently, a concern for shareholders.
In the second quarter of 2014, our engagement intensified. We commissioned research providers, EIRIS, to produce an independent report into SOCO’s activities in the area. It set out six recommendations relating to better governance, transparency and the management of human rights issues, as well as the publication of a biodiversity policy with a commitment not to carry out exploration or production within world heritage sites. We presented this to the board of SOCO, which welcomed the report and its recommendations, and we shared it with other interested investors at a roundtable discussion we hosted in May.
Our aim is to work with companies to achieve outcomes that are beneficial to them, its investors and our clients. On 11 June, SOCO announced it would not drill in the Virunga National Park and not conduct any future operations in any other world heritage sites. This breakthrough led to the withdrawal of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) complaint lodged at the OECD National Contact Point. SOCO has not yet addressed all the recommendations and there continue to be ESG risks associated with operating in the DRC. Consequently, we remain actively engaged with SOCO to resolve these outstanding concerns.