Ouida Chichester, manager of Advisory Services at BSR, has firsthand experience working directly with extractives companies on human rights issues. This fall, the Erb Institute was fortunate enough to host her for a series of workshops on human rights.

While Chicester was in Ann Arbor, she sat down with the Erb Institute to discuss her recent post on the BSR blog, “Communities First: Top Human Rights Priorities for Extractives Companies.” Through her work with companies in this industry, she has identified a list of opportunities  for the extractives industry to make a positive impact on human rights. Also, BSR has published a primer on the most urgent and probable human rights impacts for this sector that reviews topics ranging from security incidents and economic and social disruption to indigenous peoples and land acquisition. The information in the primer is collected from BSR’s hands-on engagement with extractives sector companies, as well as their rich 25-year-history helping companies across all sectors to manage and mitigate human rights risks. Both pieces are framed by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which specify that businesses should respect human rights. That means that businesses “should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.”

Our brief discussion with Ouida Chichester, below, highlights the proactive steps BSR takes to dig into the complicated issues that the extractives industry faces.

Why is it important for extractives companies, in particular, to prioritize human rights issues?

“It’s critical particularly for extractives companies to think about the communities where they’re operating. They need to understand the concerns and their potential impacts on communities. Really putting communities first is a way to think about that. We’ve identified 10 of the top issues for extractives companies’ for potential human rights risks, and a lot of those have to do with their impact on communities—whether it’s impacts on the environment that then will impact communities’ access to clean water, or impacts through government corruption and what that might do for access to services for community members. So it’s really looking at it in a broad way and understanding these potential impacts—to then be able to proactively work to mitigate these risks and to put systems in place so the risks never happen.”

How can publications like the BSR extractives primer and your blog help extractives companies mitigate human rights risks?

“If you’re aware that something is a potential risk, you’re able to implement policies and procedures and systems to look ahead and prevent something from happening. That’s far better than having to go back and clean up a mess after it’s happened. Learning from past mistakes and past situations to try to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again—that’s really my goal.”

What responsibility does the government hold and is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) a harbinger for political priorities?

According to Chichester’s piece, this conversation is particularly germane given the recent announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from the EITI, a global standard that promotes the open and accountable management of oil, gas, and mineral resources. Transparency is notably important in the extractives sector, according to Chichester, because “extractives companies have very high exposure to government, the risk of corruption is massive, especially for those projects taking place in autocratic countries, carried out in ventures with state-owned enterprises, or overseen by politically connected individuals.”

To dive deeper into human rights issues for the extractives industry, read Ouida Chichester’s blog!