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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is fighting for the right of oil, gas and mining corporations to keep payments to foreign governments secret

A photograph of Jake Parent, coordinator of Public Citizen's U.S. Chamber WatchA federal court is considering an industry challenge to a rule recently adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that would require certain oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments.

Congress directed the SEC to adopt the rule at the behest of human rights groups and investors concerned that the lack of transparency hinders citizens’ ability to hold their governments accountable for the management of revenues from oil, natural gas and minerals.

The Chamber’s reasoning for opposing the measure?

It says that complying with the rule would cost companies too much money and make it difficult for American businesses to compete with firms from countries without disclosure requirements.

Oxfam America, which filed a brief in the case to support the rule, said separately that a similar rule recently adopted by the European Union shows that such complaints are groundless.

In statement after statement, the Chamber has consistently reaffirmed its belief that its corporate members should not have to share information about whom they make payments to.

But the SEC doesn’t agree, and neither does Public Citizen. We think the court should uphold the rule, which aims to diminish the “resource curse” – the phenomenon by which the people in countries with lots of mineral resources find themselves worse off as a result of mining and drilling activities.

There’s no serious claim that disclosing this information will impose meaningful direct costs on oil, gas and mining companies – surely they know how much they pay in royalties and maintain appropriate records.

And whatever proprietary interest they have in concealing their royalty payments pales before the human rights and development imperative of empowering people in developing countries to hold their governments accountable and ensure that mineral wealth benefits the countries’ populace, not just government elites and the multinational oil and gas companies.

Jake Parent is the coordinator of Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch. Keep up with Chamber Watch by following @uschamberwatch on Twitter.