State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Case study: Corporate abuse flows along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline

Early in 2011, the UK government ruled that a BP-led oil consortium was not carrying out the human rights responsibilities of multi-national companies in its operations on the controversial Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline. The 1,770 km pipeline runs from offshore oil fields in the Caspian Sea near Azerbaijan's capital Baku, to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and on to the port of Ceyhan on the southern shores of Turkey in the Mediterranean Sea. Construction of the BP flagship project started in 1993 and was completed in 2006. BP has consistently promoted the BTC pipeline project as exemplary in its approach to human rights.

The ruling followed a complaint lodged in 2003 by a group of six NGOs and human rights organizations under the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD's) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The BTC pipeline passes through areas with significant ethnic and religious minorities; Kurdish villagers living in north-eastern Turkey have struggled to hold the consortium accountable for alleged human rights abuses associated with its development. Between 2003 and 2005, the NGO coalition conducted annual fact-finding missions to areas along the route of the BTC pipeline in the three countries.

The coalition found that the BTC consortium had failed to ensure that the project complied with OECD guidelines and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, which say that: '[C]ompanies should record and report any credible allegations of human rights abuses by public security.... Where appropriate, companies should urge investigation and that action be taken to prevent any recurrence.' Since the inception of the project, human rights campaigners in Turkey and the UK have been alarmed that Kurds and members of other local communities have faced intimidation and interrogation by security forces when they have raised objections to the pipeline. Ferhat Kaya, a local human rights defender, was reported to have been detained and tortured by the paramilitary police for insisting on fair compensation. The coalition argued that intimidation deterred local people from participating in BP's consultations about the BTC pipeline's route and from seeking compensation for loss of their land and livelihoods.

The group also found that, in Turkey, the BTC project has contributed to displacement of the Kurdish minority, who have been subject to state repression for decades. In north-eastern Turkey, where Kurds constitute 30-40 per cent of the local population, displacement has been less a result of direct military action against the supporters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) – which was more the case in other parts of the country – but was due to gradual economic pressure and state harassment. Affected villagers described the BTC pipeline as an added pressure on them to leave; it disrupted their subsistence agricultural production without providing any compensation or alternative source of income. There were also allegations that the BTC project discriminated against ethnic minorities in relation to employment practices and in the carrying out of development programmes.

In Georgia, concerns were raised about expropriation of land, poor environmental standards, lack of consultation or compensation for damage caused, unacceptable use of untested materials during construction and labour violations. In Azerbaijan, serious concerns were raised over compensation for land, corruption and restrictions on local press and affected communities regarding criticism of the project. But the most serious issues relating to minorities were raised in Turkey. The UK government ruled that, despite widespread awareness of the heightened risk of intimidation, BP failed adequately to respond or to investigate allegations brought to its attention of cases of abuse by state security forces in Turkey guarding the pipeline.

The ruling could set a new precedent for multinationals to implement more robust human rights impact assessments. Rachel Bernu of the Kurdish Human Rights Project reflected on the ruling, saying that:

'It has taken eight years for the claims of villagers facing repression in this isolated area of Turkey to be recognized. We hope this ruling marks a turning point for the governments and companies involved so that villagers receive just compensation, and human rights are not only respected but also promoted through investment in future.'

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