At Yale, debating the ethics of extractive industries

We recently wrapped up the Yale Business Ethics Conference–something I’ve been helping plan since last year.

The coolest thing about this event wasn’t the caliber of the speakers, which I found astonishing, but rather how accessible they were.  If you’ve ever wanted to debate the role of business in society with a former Fed Chairman, a former president of the World Bank, or a former president of Mexico, email me at and I'll send you an invitation to next year's conference.

I organized a panel entitled “The Ethics of Extractive Industries.”  Ken Cohen, ExxonMobil’s VP of Government and Public Affairs, presented the perspective of the world’s most profitable oil company.  Ernesto Zedillo, former president of Mexico, explained the connections between oil, power, development, and corruption in Mexico.  Peter Rosenblum moderated; he’s a professor and activist who focuses on the nexus between natural resources and human rights.  Fireworks ensued–respectful, thought-provoking fireworks.  I think this was one of those rare panels that actually got the audience to think differently (or at least deeply).  Our other esteemed panelists were Joe Bell, who has practiced natural resource law for 40 years and advises Liberia, Mongolia, and other sovereign states on resource governance, and Keith Phillips, a deal-maker who has run the mining coverage groups at Morgan Stanley and three other investment banks.

I wish I could share more about the substance (and tensions) on the panel, but Chatham House rules applied. 

In the future, I hope to write more about how and why commodities supply must grow to meet rising demand, the human and environmental complications that arise during exploration and production, and what companies and governments are doing to balance economic, environmental, and human rights imperatives.

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