Through technological advances and due to the rising price of oil and gas, the oil and gas industry has been able to explore and extract in areas deemed too difficult just a decade ago. The risks facing companies over the next 10 years are no longer technical, and chief executives do not stay up at night worrying about discovery or output. Socio-political factors have become the major issues of concern.

This paper explores human rights concerns as related to the oil and gas industry. Human rights are a core concern that requires proactive engagement. John Ruggie, the UN Special Representative on human rights and transnational corporations, has been at the forefront of guiding multinationals on how best to identify and eliminate human rights risks from its operations. The oil and gas industry faces increased pressure from governments (both domestic and foreign), non-governmental organizations, and stakeholders and shareholders to conduct human rights due diligence.

Human rights due diligence is a process that analyzes the company’s operations and relationships in relation to its social, political and economic footprint, and then evaluates the analysis in light of international human rights standards, guided by the existing body of national and international human rights law. This two-step due diligence process generates a picture of what we call "human rights risks," which the company must manage, mitigate, and ideally eliminate.

Corporations must understand that Human Rights and Risk are different. Human rights comprise the universal protections for human beings and Risk is a functional concept applied across a range of disciplines, from finance to human development, which seeks to identify and mitigate a threat. Human rights risk can be understood as the potential for harm to people, where that harm constitutes a violation of internationally proclaimed human rights. Therefore, the potential harm to human rights should be identified and companies must take steps to mitigate those risks. This paper will clarify and provide guidance to the attendees of SPE Americas 2011 and will surely elicit a lively debate.

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