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WWF cautions SOCO investors over Virunga exploration

12 June 2012

WWF today has issued a warning to SOCO International investors (many of whom are based in the UK) that the company’s exploration plans in Virunga National Park could have catastrophic impacts on local livelihoods and the environment. The FTSE 250-listed oil exploration giant will hold its Annual General Meeting tomorrow in London.

SOCO has recently announced plans to explore for oil in and around Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of the Congo, a World Heritage Site and home to the world-famous mountain gorillas. SOCO says its exploration activities will include a portion Lake Edward, where 30,000 local fishermen make their livelihoods.

“The United Nations has recognized that Virunga National Park is like no other place in the world and that oil exploration is incompatible with World Heritage status,” said Marc Languy, Leader of WWF’s Green Heart of Africa Initiative. “Responsible investors will have the opportunity tomorrow to tell SOCO that exploration in Virunga - or indeed any World Heritage Site - is inappropriate and should be abandoned.”

UNESCO, the agency responsible for the World Heritage Convention, has expressed repeated concerns over oil exploration in Virunga National Park and will be discussing the threat with governments at their annual meeting later this month.

Drew McVey, species programme manager at WWF-UK, said: “British businesses should be held accountable by the government for upholding their social and environmental responsibilities also when operating both at home and abroad.”

Oil exploration within Virunga National Park could allegedly violate the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, a regulatory framework for companies based in OECD countries, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory. By allowing a British company to enter the park, the UK government, could be found in breach of the OECD regulatory frameworks guidelines, notably Chapter 1 and 6.

The areas of Virunga National Park allocated as oil concessions cover around 85 per cent of its land, and the habitats of endangered chimpanzees, hippos, and forest elephants. The park is also home to a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas, of which only 786 individuals remain. The gorillas are a major source of eco-tourism income in the region.

"This petrol exploration has been imposed on us without any former consultation,” community leader Bantu Lukambo said during a protest in the neighbouring town of Vitshumbi. “Many people in the area have incomes and live thanks the fish from Lake Edward and we fear that petrol will bring pollution and more conflict in our region.”

Community activists opposing SOCO’s activities in Virunga National Park have recently reported receiving death threats. The company has denied any involvement.

ends

For further information:
Robin Clegg, RClegg@wwf.org.uk, +44 7771 818 707
Alona Rivord, arivord@wwfint.org, +41 79 959 1963

About WWF
WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

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