When Dr. Ward from DigitalGlobe Intelligence Solutions was speaking today, he mentioned that their program was used to identify points where oil was being stolen specifically in Nigeria. He said that the program wasn’t there to get people in trouble, but instead to help the oil companies identify which groups were stealing the most so the oil companies could work with the communities stealing the most oil to provide them with jobs, support the local economy and improve their relationships with these communities. Without meaning to sound rude, I asked him if there was any evidence that these companies were actually helping these communities move forward. He actually had personal experience with this, having lived in Nigeria while his father worked for a major oil company and collaborated with the local communities. I was interested in learning more about this topic, and I’m glad he touched on it for a bit.
In looking into it further, I was surprised about the number of articles discussing the positive impacts of the oil companies. It seems that there is an increasing expectation of oil companies to uphold their social responsibility to the countries in which they work. This article, for example, discusses how Chevron is partnering with Baylor Global Health Corp. to provide medical training and support research on child mortality in Liberia, where they are also looking for oil. The article says, “Altruism is part of it. So is business”. However, there is no way that this article is telling the whole story. It is great that oil companies are starting to take their social responsibility more seriously, but I was surprised there weren’t more articles describing the damage that big oil companies can do on developing countries.
Dr. Ward also talked about how a big challenge for oil companies in supporting the well being of local citizens is that often when these companies give money as part of their social responsibility, they have to give it through the local government. This means that they have little control over how the money is actually used, especially in developing countries where corruption is an issue and money is rarely allocated as it should be. This article discusses that many developing countries rich in oil face paradoxically face high and growing levels of poverty because of this kind of corruption. They also outline policy measures that international oil companies should take to begin to address these issues. Suggested measures include “Requiring companies to make public what they pay to governments to extract natural resources,” and “Increasing the transparency of extractives contracts and strengthening government officials’ ability to negotiate contracts that are beneficial to the country and its people.” Though the article does not talk about the role of ICTs in achieving these goals, after Dr. Ward’s presentation I think ICTs could play a huge role in implementing these measure. For example, they could be used to increase transparency of extractive contracts by making these contracts available online. As energy becomes a scarcer resource every single day, it will be important to keep in mind the impact of this scarcity on the developing world.