International concern: a letter to BP

Down to Earth No 65  May 2005

The following letter, slightly abridged here, was addressed to Lord John Browne, CEO of BP, and is dated December 8th 2004.

As individuals and organisations in West Papua and internationally who are closely following the Tangguh LNG Project in West Papua, we are writing to express our mounting concerns and to call for your immediate intervention…

…Our concerns are centred on:

  • inadequate progress on key human rights commitments
  • a worrying lack of transparency
  • a failure to acknowledge the disturbing realities of the wider West Papuan context

We believe that the company should not proceed to full project sanction until significant movement is forthcoming to address these issues. The credibility of the Tangguh Independent Advisory Panel (TIAP) as an effective instrument for 'assurance' is also at stake.


Tangguh Human Rights Issues

While we welcome BP's renewed commitment to its mandatory human rights obligations and note positively some of the proposed initiatives contained in the letter [of November 12th]*, the fact remains that these legal commitments were published two years ago as part of the Project's statutory social and environmental requirements. We emphasise, and BP well knows, that these obligations are entirely within the company's control, and are not dependent on the outcome of the current discussions with the Indonesian security forces. That so little has been achieved in this period is profoundly disturbing. We urge you to make this a critical priority: in particular, we call on the TIAP to become actively involved in ensuring BP's rigorous and rapid compliance with its commitments.


Lack of Transparency

The Tangguh project has frequently declared its intention to set new standards for operations in highly sensitive environments. Transparency and openness with stakeholders are fundamental to this objective. Yet, sadly, the reality is falling far short of expectations.

In the letter of November 12th, BP promises to provide a 'summary' of the provisions of the MoU with the Papuan police. But this MoU was signed in April, over seven months ago, and the company would have done nothing on communicating its contents until challenged by stakeholders. And why will only a summary be issued and not the full text? What is being hidden? We note that the BTC project has just published the entire texts of its security agreements with the government of Georgia. The imperative of openness is even greater in locations as West Papua where the abuses of human rights for over 40 years by the Indonesian military have been systematic and endemic. [Note: the full text of the agreement was subsequently published - see]

We are also disappointed that only a "short summary" will be produced Of the forthcoming report by Gare Smith on Tangguh's human rights performance. The company seems determined to maintain a secrecy that so eroded its credibility in 2003 with its refusal to publish the original Tangguh Human Rights Impact Assessment by Messrs. Smith and Freeman.

This is hardly the way to build trust.


BP and West Papuan Political Context

The letter of November 12th contends that major destabilising events as the arbitrary division of West Papua are matters for "governments and civil society". The notion that West Papuan civil society played any part in the diktat is preposterous; and the company does itself no justice by such an extraordinary formulation.

No stakeholder is suggesting that BP should not obey the law, but we do contend that it has a responsibility to make its views known. Key components of the Tangguh Integrated Social Programmes, including the Diversified Growth Strategy, Revenue Management and indeed the security framework, have been predicated on a unified West Papua. The establishment of the so-called West Irian Jaya Province, whose status is further confused by the recent Constitutional Court ruling, has a direct impact in the Project. BP feels no compunction about raising questions of tax, environmental and regulatory policies with the Indonesian Government. Why therefore does it choose to be supine on issues whose negative consequences for West Papuans also significantly heighten the many operating risks for the company and its shareholders?

Specifically, the division of West Papua will mean that Tangguh Revenues will now flow largely to West Irian Jaya and not to Papua Province as a whole, thus exacerbating the potential for horizontal conflict and economic inequity. However, there is currently a state of complete confusion as to the relative distribution of revenue between the two provinces, as the 2001 Special Autonomy Law, which was supposed to cover such matters, was passed assuming there would only be one province, Papua, and Special Autonomy has in any case yet to be implemented.

There is also the alarming possibility that new TNI and other security structures could be established that will reinforce political intimidation and longstanding military corruption and violence, (such as occurred in April this year [2004] a mere 20km along the Bay from the project base when the TNI attacked Meryadi Village, Vorwata District, killing four Papuan civilians -- as reported in the Stakeholders' Update in May, and is also taking place at this very moment in the Puncak Jaya region of the central highlands).

These are matters that affect BP directly and in so doing they also Have fundamental human rights implications for those communities whom the Tangguh Project most affects. In these circumstances, we assert that BP must carefully re-examine its legitimate sphere of influence in West Papua. It has a moral and commercial obligation to do so.


We are neither supporters nor opponents of the Tangguh Project. The local communities in Bintuni Bay and broader civil society in West Papua should be the ultimate arbiters though we doubt that this is possible In a continuing climate of oppression, notwithstanding the dedication and commitment of Tangguh's field team of young West Papuans and others. But they and other stakeholders are entitled that corporate human rights commitments made will be commitments honoured in full and in a timely manner. At present, this is not happening to anything like an acceptable extent in the areas we have identified. We ask that BP and the TIAP give the highest priority to rectification.

Yours sincerely,

Carmel Budiardjo, Tapol, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, [on behalf of 300 signatories from West Papua and internationally].


In response, BP gave the assurance that the letter had contributed to BP's thoughts and discussions "as we progress the project to sanction". On BP's role in the wider political context, Group Vice President Gary Dirks wrote "we do not engage in political activity, not should we", and had no mandate to carry out political roles.

This clearly ignores the fact that BP's decision to develop a huge, long-term project in a disputed territory is immensely political, since this will bring substantial economic benefit to the Indonesian government (as well as huge profits to its own shareholders) and implicitly supports that government's long and brutal history of repression in West Papua.

*This letter reconfirms BP's commitment to the Voluntary Principles, including provisions on monitoring and reporting allegations of human rights violations and urging appropriate investigations and actions to the government. It mentions a forthcoming visit by human rights and security expert Gare Smith, to "help ensure we have the processes and procedures in place to meet our human rights commitments". The letter does not give any details of what these processes and procedures may be. (Letter from Emma Delaney to Tangguh Stakeholders, November 12, 2004).

The NGO letter refers to this and previous correspondence in which BP agrees that it must give practical effect to the legally-binding commitments to human rights protection in the 2002 Environmental and Social Impact Assessment.