Should Talisman be in Sudan? Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights

This was the title of a discussion under the auspices of the University College Lectures in Peace Studies held on Tuesday March 21, 2000, at the International Student Centre, University of Toronto. Participants included: Professor Len Brooks, from the Rotman School of Management and Executive Director of the Clarkson Centre for Business Ethics; Gerry Barr, Department Leader of Humanity Fund from the United Steelworkers; and Mel Watkins, President of Science for Peace and Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto.

This discussion followed the announcement earlier this year by Mr Lloyd Axworthy, Minister of Foreign Affairs, that his Department will not act on the Harper Report, which submitted evidence that Talisman Energy is facilitating human rights abuses in Sudan. Georgette Gagnon, one the authors of the report, said that Talisman adds legitimacy to the military dictatorship.

Gerry Barr of USW suggested that Talisman had shown no interest in negotiating with peace and human rights groups since it moved into Sudan about two years ago.

Professor Brooks preferred to deal with general issues. He suggested that not enough is known yet on how to deal with situations like Talisman’s, but that it appears that actions of Non-governmental organizations and unions are likely to be more effective than actions by governments, which should be considered to be the last resort.

Professor Cranford Pratt, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, suggested that energy conservation measures on the part of western nations would eventually lead to a drop in oil prices and the fall of the dictatorship. This suggestion was not well received by many members of the audience, including Osman Bileya, a student in Computer Engineering and a former resident of Sudan, and Georgette Gagnon, who continued to urge that the Canadian government should take action of some kind.