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Sharing human rights awareness

September 16, 2002, 01:00 CEST

The Norwegian business community has a tradition for social responsibility. There is now an urgent need for companies to assert themselves in international human rights affairs. Hydro is becoming more aware of human rights issues through its cooperation with Amnesty International Norway.

"It is in the company's best interests to have a clear profile concerning human rights - one that embraces political, social and economic liberties. It makes it much easier to recruit, motivate and keep personnel, establish better risk analyses when setting up operations in other countries, and increase shareholder confidence," says Beate Slydal, political advisor at Amnesty's Norway branch.

She recently met with Hydro employees working in the company's international oil and gas activities. The meeting is part of competence training undertaken by Hydro personnel working with Angola. In line with an agreement signed between Hydro and Amnesty earlier this year, the latter group is helping educate Hydro personnel about human rights in countries where the company operates. The two organizations will share knowledge.

Duty to take part

The United Nations' International Declaration of Human Rights obligates the business community to get involved. The ability to make a tangible difference has grown dramatically in recent years due to significant political changes in the world. In turn, business now has a greater responsibility to act than ever before, Slydal comments.

She emphasizes the fact Amnesty does not in principle encourage companies to totally boycott dubious countries.

"We try to instead provide clear information about how conditions really are and how to contend with problems encountered. We provide, for example, advice on what companies should always be prepared for, both internally and concerning communication. An example of this is affirming that human rights are an intregal part of the company's value system, that it is selective regarding suppliers and other coooperation partners, that it will express opposition to torture and police violence, support freedom of speech and the right to assemble, and be willing to take up individual cases with the authorities in individual countries."

No internal matter

"We still hear the phrase that human rights are 'an internal matter,' but according to international law there's no such thing when basic human rights are violated," Slydal insists.

During the meeting with Hydro personnel, she focused on conditions in Angola, where the company has been active looking for oil and gas since the 1990s. Several Hydro employees present gave first-hand accounts of how the company strives to act responsibly.

Slydal challenges the oil industry to collectively demand that western transparency practices and human rights standards be followed in suspect countries.

"The civil war in Angola, which persisted more than 25 years and only recently ended, contributed to four million Angolans becoming internally displaced refugees. Some 1.5 million of these have acute humanitarian needs. The country has many profoundly traumatized children who fought n the war. The breach of human rights has been atrocious. Freedom of speech has been severely limited, " Slydal pointed out.

"Our cooperation with Amnesty gives us direct access to knowledge and information useful to Hydro's activities," says Camilla Nyhuus Christensen in Hydro CSR, responsible for following up the partnership agreement with Amnesty International Norway.