A Senate vote July 15 gave final approval to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act with a landmark provision requiring energy and mining companies registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to disclose how much they pay to foreign countries and the U.S. government for oil, gas and minerals.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a central voice in this historic campaign, which works to give citizens in resource-rich countries the information they need to combat corruption in the oil and mineral sector and to demand government accountability for responsible resource use.
The House passed the same legislation on June 30 and it is expected to be signed into law this week by President Barack Obama.
"As a church, we've been linked to Africa for more than 100 years and the call for this legislation came to us from hunger-related networks there. Presbyterians across the United States worked hard for its passage, as well as for the release of those who are jailed seeking the information this bill will make public," said the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly. "Our charity is never going to solve the problems of inadequate health care, deficient education, poor infrastructure and horrible abuses of human rights.
"These reforms will empower civil society to press governments to help solve these problems by diverting millions of dollars that are now channeled into corrupt purposes and into fueling conflict."
The measure is a major victory for the global Publish What You Pay coalition, which includes more than 600 faith, human rights and development groups working in over 55 countries. The PC(U.S.A.) joined the coalition in 2008 by action of the 218th General Assembly, at the initiative of the Joining Hands network of the Presbytery of Chicago.
The network is partnered with RELUFA, a Cameroonian organization that is linked to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Hunger Program. Christi Boyd, a longtime mission co-worker in Africa, facilitates the relationship between RELUFA and U.S. congregations, particularly those with formal partnerships in Chicago and in the Twin Cities.
"While this bill was passed in the U.S., many civil society groups around the world will benefit from it, as the new legislation will give them access to critical data about financial transactions between foreign companies and their governments that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access," said Valery Nodem, RELUFA’s coordinator in a statement issued July 16. "The church's role has been instrumental in raising awareness amongst church members in different presbyteries about why this is important, and encouraging church members to send letters to Congress.
"This victory is for all of us to share, but let us recognize all of the people who never stopped believing it was possible," said Nodem, adding that advocates need to continue monitoring how these changes will be implemented. "PC(USA) has, for a long time, had a critical understanding of issues surrounding the extractive industries and has repeatedly called for systemic change in the sector."
More than 50 PC(U.S.A.) presbyteries engaged the campaign at varying levels. Last year, many letters were sent to foster the release of seven men who were jailed in Africa alone for asking for accountability from governments for resource revenues.
The Rev. Michael Winters of Chicago, coordinator of the Chicago Joining Hands network, told press that he is delighted by yesterday's vote. "This initiative increases the possibility that our overseas partners may have a democratic voice in the policies of their country; and, it may help us achieve more corporate responsibility within the oil industry here," Winters said, referring to events in the Gulf of Mexico. "It is one more step toward transparency."
Winters also offered his deep thanks to the "many, many" Presbyterians who worked to understand the transparency debate and then to advocate for it.
The provision was based on the Energy Security Through Transparency Act (S-1700), which was championed in the U.S. Senate by a bipartisan group of legislators led by Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and Richard Lugar (R-IN). Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the provision as an amendment during conference negotiations for the financial services reform bill.
Critical support came from Senators Tim Johnson (D-ND), Russell Feingold (D-WI), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Richard Durbin (D-IL). Both the Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd 9D-CT) and the House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) supported the Senate amendment during conference negotiations.
"The Presbyterian Church has been fundamental to the success of the Publish What You Pay campaign in the U.S. Its support gave our campaign credibility and the work of the hunger networks helped ground our efforts in the needs of real people struggling with the impact of the resource curse," said Isabel Munilla, the executive director of the U.S. PWYP campaign, adding that the church's voice on Capitol Hill was critical, as well as its work with media.