WASHINGTON -- Prodded by the U.S. and British governments, five leading oil companies agreed Wednesday to a new code of conduct, pledging to discourage police and private security companies from abusing people who live near their oil fields.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the pact -- signed by Chevron, Texaco, Conoco, Royal Dutch Shell and BP Amoco -- a "landmark of corporate responsibility" intended to prevent human rights abuses that oil and mining companies have been accused of committing, especially in developing nations.
"It demonstrates that the best-run companies realize that they must pay attention ... to universal standards of human rights, and that in addressing these needs and standards, there is no necessary conflict between profit and principle," she said.
In addition to the oil companies, the agreement was signed by mining companies Freeport McMoRan and Rio Tinto, and by a group of human rights watchdog organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The pact was the product of more than a year of negotiations sponsored by the State Department and the British Foreign Office.
The code is voluntary, but officials suggested that violations could produce a consumer backlash in the era of Internet-driven human rights campaigns.
"The global marketplace is a tremendously powerful tool for promoting human freedom," said Harold Koh, assistant secretary of State for human rights.
Koh added that he expects the code to become a global standard by which all oil and mining companies will be judged, not just the firms that signed the original pact. He said the objective was to discourage companies from trying to maximize profits by cutting corners on human rights.
The pact says companies should insist that security forces, both government and private, use the minimum force consistent with protecting company property.
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