Churches pressure Canadian oil company

Published November 1, 1999

Church shareholders in a Calgary oil company working in Sudan are worried that revenues from oil production are supporting the Sudanese government in the north and contributing to genocide in the south.

About a dozen churches and denominations, including the Anglican Church of Canada, collectively hold some 100,000 shares in Talisman Energy Inc., which began exporting oil from Sudan in September through the Greater Nile Company. The churches, with support from the Taskforce on Church and Corporate Responsibility, have lobbied the company, spoken out at a shareholders meeting, met with the federal government and, more recently, written to Talisman’s board of directors, so far with little result.

The churches were shareholders in Talisman long before the company acquired Arakis Oil in 1998 and began exploring in Sudan. Revenues from church investments go into pension funds and other funds.

A year ago the churches began writing letters to Talisman, task force spokesman Peter Chapman said. Talisman responded that the company is doing development work and helping to bring peace and stability to a country immersed in civil war since 1983.

But the task force and other human rights groups had received numerous documented reports that the National Islamic Front, which runs the Khartoum-based government from the north, has bombed hospitals in the south, starved people by not allowing food aid in, displaced those who live near the oil pipeline, and tolerated slavery, rape, torture and persecution of Christians and animists in the south. In 16 years, about 2 million people have died in the fighting.

It’s clear that Talisman’s presence in the conflict only exacerbates the problems, says Joy Kennedy, the Anglican Church’s eco-justice coordinator. “This certainly just makes it so much easier for the government to have its way.”

Task force members asked Talisman to adhere to human rights standards in its work in Sudan, to make known to shareholders what those standards are, and to ask an independent group to verify that those standards are being kept.

“We hoped that by this dialogue we would open channels of communication,” says Zaida Bastos, the Anglican Church’s program associate for Africa. “They have not responded favourably.”

Talisman president James Buckee insists the fighting and slavery are primarily among tribal groups and rebel factions. When he visited the Nuba Mountains and the Heglig area where the pipeline originates, he said, “it looked fine to me.”

Anglican minister Rev. Thomas Kedini, a Sudanese Canadian working in Toronto, says Talisman is only concerned about making money and doesn’t care about the lives of people around the pipeline.

Mr. Kedini left Sudan seven years ago but still has many family members there. “They all depend on relief food flowing from outside,” he said.

So far the Anglican church has chosen to work from within the company instead of divesting. Ms. Kennedy said, “we want to give the company a clear indication that we’re not going to go away.”

But the level of dialogue has moved in recent months to focusing on Talisman’s board of directors, Ms. Bastos said. The church groups have written letters to individual board members, offering to put them in contact with partners in Sudan and asking them to respond to concerns. “We have not received any response on that yet,” she said.

Mr. Kedini agrees that the church has a role to play from within rather than as outsiders. “They can give a lot of pressure,” he said. But he wishes the church would make a strong public statement on its position.

Gary Kenny, co-ordinator of the Inter-Church Coalition on Africa, which has been lobbying both Talisman and the federal government, has a stronger view. “The only morally defensible thing to do is to divest,” he said.

Church groups are also raising concerns with the federal government. Debra Fieguth lives in Winnipeg and is associate editor of Christian Week.


  • Debra Fieguth

    Debra Fieguth lives in Winnipeg and is associate editor of Christianweek.

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