International discussions on corporate responsibility for the respect of human rights has increased significantly over the past few years culminating in the publication of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Total has been an active contributor to these discussions and, in parallel, has developed internal guidance on human rights to complement existing policies on risk evaluation and Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA). A range of industry guidance has, and is, being developed on the integration of human rights into impact assessments, yet there remains discussion about whether an integrated, stand-alone or mixed approach can best address these issues.

Total has identified the potential human rights risks and impacts of its exploration activities in a sub-saharan African country where the human rights context is particularly complex. A dual approach was taken: human rights issues were added to the scope of the ESIA, whilst in parallel a dedicated human rights impact assessment was commissioned.

A number of issues have emerged: the relation between the potential impacts of a relatively small scale exploration activity in a context of high human rights risk; the need to address risks and impacts related to a specific operation versus those that go beyond a limited geographic zone; the ‘conflict’ between confidentiality for both the company and those stakeholders consulted, and transparency.

This paper presents a comparative assessment of the methodologies used to identify potential human rights risks and impacts, evaluate their severity, and to identify mitigation measures. The strengths and weaknesses of each approach in this particular context are evaluated. It is anticipated that the assessment will provide lessons and practical recommendations for the industry given: the history and current human rights context in the operational area; the two studies being carried out in parallel for the same exploration activity in the same area, the different skills and experience being provided by the two organizations.

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