Vattenfall: Words but no action on blood coal

Image: The Vattenfall Boxberg power station as seen from Schwarze Pumpe power station Photo Wikimedia CC-BY-SA-2.0-DE,

September 29, 2016

Swedish company Vattenfall, one of Europe’s largest energy providers, has stated that it is “strongly committed to using its commercial leverage to improve the situation on the ground in Colombia.” PAX welcomes this commitment, but it is time for Vattenfall to back up its words with actual changes in its commercial relations with their Colombian coal suppliers.

Wouter Kolk, PAX campaign leader, says, “This is a litmus test to decide if Vattenfall is as sustainable as it claims to be.”

PAX supports victims in the mining region of Cesar in their search for remedy and justice. While thousands of people were killed in the mining region and it remains highly unsafe, Vattenfall continues to buy cheap blood coal from the area. Kolk: “Vattenfall is talking the talk, but is not yet walking the walk. If Vattenfall truly wants to contribute to improving the human rights situation in Cesar, it should draw a red line and increase its leverage by immediately suspending its trading relationships with their coal suppliers, mining companies Drummond and Prodeco/Glencore.”

Vattenfall’s inconsistency
Vattenfall’s statement is a reaction to a new PAX report that shows that civil society leaders in the mining region of Cesar, a region in which more than 3,000 people have been killed between 1996-2006, are still being systematically threatened and assaulted. Vattenfall states that “Drummond does not qualify as a direct supplier”, but “Glencore/Prodeco does” (see Vattenfall statement). This is inconsistent in two ways. Firstly, Vattenfall says Drummond is not qualified to supply its coal, but in practice Vattenfall will continue to indirectly buy coal mined by Drummond on the market. Secondly, just like Drummond, Glencore/Prodeco has neither assessed nor addressed recent cases of threats and violence against civil society leaders, nor have they taken clear and decisive steps towards remedy for the thousands of victims of past grave human rights violations in the mining area. It is unclear why Glencore/Prodeco should qualify when Drummond does not.  

International standards on business and human rights indicate that if the impact on the local population is severe and/or attempts at mitigation have not led to results, Vattenfall should seriously consider suspending their trading relations. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that if a company remains in a business relationship despite ongoing human rights abuses, the company should “be prepared to accept any consequences – reputational, financial or legal – of the continuing connection. Kolk: “Vattenfall could increase its leverage to stop the human rights abuses by suspending the import of blood coal. Doing so would be in line with international standards and contribute to ending the current violence and ensuring that victims of earlier paramilitary violence receive the reparations to which they are entitled.”

Blood coal still linked to murder
The new PAX report shows that there is still a culture of violence and intimidation in the coal mining region. In the past four years, at least 200 people have been attacked with automatic weapons and machetes or received text messages, phone calls and pamphlets with death threats. On September 11th, Néstor Iván Martínez, leader of an Afro-Colombian community resisting the expansion of the mines owned by the American mining company Drummond, was assassinated in cold blood in front of his relatives. This assassination follows a death threat issued a few weeks earlier on August 25 and took place in Chiriguaná. This is the same village in which the father of Maira Mendez, who toured Europe last May, was also murdered in front of his family. Mendez shared her concerns about the ongoing violence and asked energy companies to stop buying blood coal.

See PAX report Civil Society Under Threat


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