European energy companies contributed to human rights violations and must now contribute to reparation

Image: Daniel Maissan

July 15, 2021

European energy companies have contributed to human rights violations in Colombia. This is the main conclusion of a new report by SOMO, the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations. First the energy companies were ‘linked’ to the violations through their trade relationship. ”But according to this new analysis, based on international standards on Responsible Business Conduct, they also contributed, because these companies have been aware of the abuses for years and nevertheless continued to buy coal from Cesar without making a significant contribution to improving the victims’ situation,” says Joris van de Sandt from PAX.

The Cesar Department in northern Colombia was the scene of severe human rights violations at the hands of paramilitary groups in the 1990s and 2000s, including targeted killings of activists, massacres and forced displacements. In the same period, two multinational mining companies – US-based Drummond and Swiss based Prodeco/Glencore – initiated and expanded their operations in the area, supplying coal to several European energy providers. In December 2020, the Colombian Public Prosecutor charged both the current and former president of the Drummond’s Colombian subsidiary with complicity in crimes against humanity.

The abuses suffered

In February this year, Glencore announced that it wants to stop its mining operations in Cesar. Like other parts of the local population, this has caused great concern among the victims of human rights violations. They hold the mining companies partially responsible for the abuses they have suffered and point out that most of their communities have not received any remediation to date. Given the announcement of Prodeco’s departure, they fear that the companies will leave Cesar without having contributed to meaningful reparations.

Not just linked to, but contributing

Zooming in on the situation in Cesar, SOMO analyses the violations around the Colombian coalmines through the lens of the OECD Guidelines and the UN Guiding Principles. The report, using the findings from the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office indictment and reports on the case, amongst which PAX’s “Dark Side of Coal”, makes the most detailed public analysis to date of when and how a company shifts from being ‘directly linked to’ human rights violations to ‘contributing to’ the abuses. The report contends that European energy providers such as RWE, EnWB, Uniper, Enel and Vattenfall that purchased ‘blood coal’ from Colombia for over many years, should have known at least since 2017 that the mining companies were contributing to ongoing severe human rights impacts and that there was no credible prospect that continuing engagement would lead to improvements in actually addressing these impacts. In that year Vattenfall carried out a fact-finding mission in the region, clearly establishing the (indirect) negative impacts on human rights from coal mining.  

Historic responsibility

“The European energy companies bear joint responsibility for the violations according to international standards with regard to Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) and corporate responsibility for human rights,” says Joris van de Sandt. “Since 2017 they’ve had a lot of time to act but haven’t done so. Energy companies must help remediate the negative impacts. The communities want the companies to set up or invest money in a fund for the benefit of the economic development and reconstruction of displaced communities. And for example for scholarships for the children of the victims and relatives of the violence in the mining region. They have a historic responsibility that will not disappear when they stop using Cesar’s blood coal.”

‘Answer the victims call’

Joris van de Sandt: “Energy companies such as RWE and Uniper, which are affiliated with Bettercoal along with other energy companies, say in their defense that they are committed to improving the situation in Cesar in the field of safety, working conditions and the environment. This is positive, but does not answer the victims’ call for truth, recognition and reparation regarding human rights violations that occurred during the paramilitary violence.”

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