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Oiling the Wheels

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Today we are squaring up to big oil. Adverts will appear in papers across Europe shining a spotlight on a few corporate lobbyists who are trying to water down a new law that could transform millions of lives. It's an unusual move for us - we're more used to pushing politicians to keep their aid promises. But it might be the most important campaign we have ever run. Here's why...

The European Union is debating a new transparency law that would require oil, gas, mining and forestry companies to publish the payments they make to governments around the world. Currently these secret payments fuel corruption. They allow unscrupulous leaders to pocket some of the profits for themselves and prevent citizens from accessing the information they need to ensure money is used for vital services like schools, roads and health clinics. By making payments public, the public can follow the payments.

Equatorial Guinea is a prime example. Its per capita wealth is equivalent to that of most European countries, yet many of its citizens live in extreme poverty and one in eight children die before reaching their 5th birthday. Meanwhile the President's son - whose official wage as a government minister is $5,000 a month - owns a mansion in Malibu, a private jet worth $33 million, and even bought more than $3 million of Michael Jackson memorabilia. That's a lot of bad stuff, in more ways than one.

For African countries this law could be transformative. In 2010 extractive industries were estimated to be worth $333 billion to Africa. It dwarfs aid - which was $48 billion in the same year. Africa is not poor - it is resource rich. New oil finds are regular news across the continent - from Kenya to Sierra Leone. As ONE's co-founder Bono wrote recently in Time Magazine now is an opportunity to ensure the "resource boom benefits the many, not the few".

That's why ONE, along with our partners in the Publish What You Pay coalition, has been meeting with policymakers, writing letters and organising petitions. We've been to see the most important government ministers across Europe, including Norman Lamb who leads on this for the UK government. ONE members have been contacting their MEPs and we've been in touch with the companies themselves too.

But now is the time to go public.

We know that many international oil, mining and gas companies want to do business in the right way and work in partnership with the communities and countries where they operate. They are rightly proud of their commitment to ethics and transparency and Africa wants their business. But some lobbyists, working on behalf of some companies, seem set on a different course. They continue to argue against details of the law that our partners in Africa tell us are absolutely critical. They want to amend the law to avoid reporting payments against individual projects. This would deny local communities information about the mines and wells in their vicinity. They also want to be exempt from reporting payments in the some of the world's most autocratic states - completely defeating the point of this legislation.

Lord Browne, who as CEO of BP for over ten years, says these lobbyists are wrong. He says such amendments would "break the essential link between information about local resources, local payments and local spending." A law that will not achieve that central objective is not a law European parliamentarians and leaders should wave through.

Most of us struggle to name our MEP, but in the next three months we really ought to get to know them. Members of the European Parliament, and representatives of the EU's national governments at the Council of Ministers, will be voting on this law. Few of them will claim to be against transparency and the fight against corruption - but in this case, the devil is in the detail.

These adverts are just one step. We'll be tracking how key representatives respond, highlighting those fighting for a strong transparency law and exposing those blocking it. By making this process public we will be holding our representatives accountable for the decisions they make. And we will take away the most powerful tool some corporate lobbyists have. Secrecy.

Find out more and join ONE at www.one.org

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