Bono hits out at big oil for concealing payments to African governments
Consumers can change behaviour of corporations, U2 singer believes
Bono criticised the US oil lobby for killing a bill that would have forced greater transparency: “You can’t give alms to the poor on one level and have your hands on their throat on the other.” Photograph: Ramin Talaie/Getty Images
It was an impression of which any great impersonator would be proud. Bono nailed Bill Clinton’s southern drawl when he took advantage of a delay at the start of the former president’s think-in in New York last week.
The clip of the U2 frontman’s funny send-up went viral, eclipsing a weightier message the anti-poverty campaigner later made on the main stage of the Clinton Global Initiative, the Clinton family foundation’s annual convention, in front of an audience of movers and shakers from the worlds of politics, big business and non-profit organisations.
During the subsequent panel discussion Bono lashed out at the American Petroleum Institute (API), one of Washington’s most powerful lobby groups representing major US oil companies, for blocking a measure that would force them to disclose what they pay African governments for mining contracts.
The objective of the extractive industry transparency law is to expose corruption in the oil and gas sector, to show why countries that are extremely rich in mineral resources remain so poor despite their public representatives and officials agreeing lucrative contracts with global companies.
“Unfortunately, comedy wins out,” Bono told The Irish Times, reflecting on the fact that his impression of Clinton overshadowed the more serious point he wanted to make.
“I was really annoyed with myself for filling the silence with some humour because it actually ended up that that point didn’t travel,” he said in an interview in New York given on the basis that it would be limited to a discussion around the transparency legislation.
The transparency law was created by the Cardin-Lugar amendment (named after senators from Maryland and Indiana). After intensive lobbying efforts by campaigners, the amendment was slipped in at the last minute to the 2,300-page Dodd-Frank Bill that was introduced three years ago to set Wall Street straight in the aftermath of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
The push started when the Publish What You Pay campaign group hitched its carriage to the One locomotive, the advocacy group co-founded by Bono, in 2010 to push for the change. Similar transparency rules were introduced in the EU during Ireland’s presidency of the European Council.
The passage of the US Bill was undoubtedly a success; its implementation was not. In July the API won a lawsuit killing the measure before it was enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission, allowing the oil and mining companies keep details of their contracts secret.
“They are trying to protect the advantage that opacity gives them in these contracts. Most of the large oil, gas and mining companies from Brazil to China are already on the New York Stock Exchange or the London Stock Exchange so there is a little bit of King Canute about this,” said Bono.
“Their first instinct is to protect what once was in their total control and domain from prying eyes internationally or locally. Their press office even had the gall to describe this round’s victory over the SEC as a victory for transparency . . . it seems their idea of transparency is locking the door and pulling down the blinds.”