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I have a situation where a large oil field is discovered in a country ruled by a junta with abysmal human rights records. On the one hand world oil prices are very high, which puts pressure on governments, and on the other hand there's strong moral pressure to boycott human rights abusers. Trading with the junta would be a huge PR nightmare and be seen as rewarding a criminal regime.

Is there a way for (some) countries to buy oil from them?

Maybe through some countries that don't care much about human rights, or by turning a blind eye to oil smuggling.

Overthrowing the junta is NOT an option.

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    $\begingroup$ Notice to close voters, if you don't explain why you voted to close, the question cannot be improved. I, for one, would like to know why this is considered off-topic. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Dec 28 '16 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ Look into the French circumvention of the sanctions against Iraq and the oil-for-food fiasco. $\endgroup$ – chrylis Dec 28 '16 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ You could also argue that by interacting with them, you can change them better than by isolating them (Apple and China, Microsoft and China...) and go against opinion. $\endgroup$ – Blackbeagle Dec 29 '16 at 1:39
  • $\begingroup$ You buy it via a third country which is not participating in the embargo. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hampton Dec 29 '16 at 5:12
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Consider these examples:

  1. Saudi Arabia.
  2. The so-called Islamic State.
  3. Venezuela.

All of these governmental entities (because Daesh isn't recognised by any nation) are rated by Amnesty International to have abysmal human rights records.

Amnesty International says that in Saudi Arabia, there were over 150 executions, summary judgements are routinely issued, thousands of people have been expelled from the country to dangerous areas, there is government discrimination against Shia muslims, and there are severe restrictions on basic freedoms. The West still buys oil from them.

The so-called Islamic State is famous for its violations of human rights. But until recently, with the advance of the Iraqi army and more effective coalition airstrikes, Daesh was earning millions of dollars a day in smuggling oil at below-market-prices, selling it to tankers which would then cross the border into Turkey. So oil was and still is being bought from them.

Venezuela has also committed some human rights violations as well, imprisoning journalists which have spoken up against the regime, killing political opponents, etc. Until very recently, with the near collapse of their oil infrastructure, the West bought huge amounts of oil from them as well.

In general, people are willing to overlook human rights abuses if a country is willing to provide a cheap and dependable supply of a vital natural resource. Countries need petrol to fuel their cars, ships, military, etc. Democracies face electoral unrest if oil prices rise too high (even though it is preposterous to blame a national government for the movement of the global petrol market). Unfortunately, the human rights of people far away don't really matter that much when countries don't need to see or hear of them.

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    $\begingroup$ Concise and real. +1 $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Dec 28 '16 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ So the UN will just pass few meaningless resolutions but West/China will still buy the oil, maybe at some discount. Works for me. $\endgroup$ – DrinkDiesel Dec 28 '16 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ The West still buys (hell a lot of) oil from them. :D $\endgroup$ – Hanky Panky Dec 29 '16 at 9:11
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    $\begingroup$ @DrinkDiesel, it's quite easy to justify. If you're the President, simply explain that they are an independent nation whose sovereignty must be respected. Then just say that they are working on it and that our trade with them exposes them to liberal values which, over the long run, helps to promote democracy. Not trading them would just lead to fiscal instability and less scrupulous states would buy the oil anyway, which wouldn't exert such pressure. $\endgroup$ – ifly6 Dec 29 '16 at 13:13
  • $\begingroup$ Venezuela was not only forgiven humans rights violation but even nationalization of property of international corporations. Russia was forgotten its leveling of Chechnya and continued occupation of parts of nearby countries like Georgia or Ukraine. The only recent case when it was excessive even for international community was Iranian nuclear program. $\endgroup$ – Shadow1024 Dec 29 '16 at 17:36
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Just don't buy directly from Junta. Their oil will be trading at a discount because demand is restricted. A third party registered in PR friendly country will come in and buy and sell. You just need plausible deniability you were not aware the third party was sourcing from Junta. Even if you don't know and it is later discovered you may have a PR problem because you should have know.

Embargo and PR are not the same. If your county has an embargo then you may be in criminal violation by bypassing the embargo.

Crude oil can be traced to the field so you are going to have a problem there. The incoming port can just sample the oil. But I don't think the refined gasoline could be traced.

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You could always buy it in secret and alter any document which has its origin.

Embargos only apply to the country or countries that issued it, so Another option is to get another country to purchase it, and sell it in to you.

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Do like ISIS currently does. They smuggle out oil into surrounding countries. Those countries buy it at extreme discount then resell it. A really ambitious plan would involve an underground pipeline.

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    $\begingroup$ Operating an underground pipeline in a country with abysmal human rights has a set of risks and PR problems. $\endgroup$ – paparazzo Dec 28 '16 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Paparazzi there are other ways to transport oil than pipes. for decades gas stations have gotten their gasoline using trucks $\endgroup$ – Reed Dec 28 '16 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Reed Crude oil and gasoline are not the same. I don't recommend you put crude oil directly in your vehicle. Operating trucks in a country with abysmal human rights is without a set of risks and PR problems? And you don't use gasoline trucks to transport crude oil. On top of all that the anwer said underground pipeline. $\endgroup$ – paparazzo Dec 28 '16 at 23:11
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IRL the axe on this trade was Marc Rich.

He basically developed the spot market for oil, and then used it to circumvent oil embargos in the 70s and 80s. Commodities traders like Glencore are necessary intermediaries to make this happen.

You can get more detail on Marc Rich's shady dealings in "Metal Men" by Craig Copetas, a pretty tasty muck-raking book from the 80s.

A better reference, informed by interviews with Marc Rich himself, is "The King of Oil" by Daniel Ammann (available on Amazon).

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