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“Blood coal” complaint alleges complicity of European energy companies in abuses

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Colombian victims of “blood coal” are in the Netherlands on Thursday 20 April to file a complaint against energy companies RWE, Vattenfall, Uniper, and Engie for their contribution to severe human rights violations surrounding coal mines in Colombia. The complaint, supported by SOMO and PAX, is submitted to the National Contact Point (NCP(opens in new window) ) for the OECD Guidelines in The Hague. It also targets bulk handling company HES International and the ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, through which the coal was shipped.

Between 1996 and 2006, over 3,000 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced from their land around the coal mines in the northern Colombian province of Cesar. The coal mines are operated by US-based Drummond and Swiss-based Glencore, which have expanded the mines onto the land from which the victims were displaced.

Colombia coal mining map

Victims continue to be threatened

Victims have never received redress for the injustice done to them, and to this day community members seeking to defend their human rights are continue to be threatened daily by illegal armed groups. The companies targeted in the OECD complaint have imported or distributed coal from Cesar for years, and some of them continue to do so.

This is not the first time victims have raised the alarm about abuses in the coal supply chain. Feeling the pressure following a public outcry in 2012, European energy companies started an industry-led organisation called “Bettercoal”. In 2014, the Dutch government signed a voluntary “coal covenant” with energy companies in which agreements were made on how they would tackle abuses in the supply chain.

Energy companies complicit

The complainants argue that despite their knowledge of abuses, the energy companies failed to take sufficient action to address the dire situation of severe human rights impacts directly associated with the coal they were sourcing. This is a violation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and means the energy companies can be considered to be contributing to the harms. The victims seek financial reparations, public acknowledgement of the harm done to them, and improvements in the situation of communities near the mines.

The energy companies can certainly afford a contribution to remediation, having made massive profits and giving generous dividends to shareholders in the years they were sourcing “blood coal”. SOMO has calculated that RWE, for example, has made a total net profit of € 27.35 billion of which €22.12 billion went to its shareholders (primarily Blackrock and Qatar) in the more than a decade in which it was buying coal from Colombia.

Joseph Wilde-Ramsing, Director of Advocacy at SOMO: “By profiting from serious human rights violations in Colombia for years while neglecting their responsibility, coal buyers have become part of the problem. They must now make a concrete and material contribution to reparations for the victims of these violations. An important part of the just energy transition is for these companies, as they exit coal, to resolve any abuses around coal mines to which they have contributed.”

Need for binding legislation

“The example of blood coal from Colombia and the behaviour of energy and port companies operating in the Netherlands shows that voluntary principles or standards of corporate responsibility are inadequate, especially in areas affected by armed conflict like Colombia. Therefore, the duty of care of companies in global supply chains must be legally enshrined in national as well as European legislation,” said Joris van de Sandt of peace organisation PAX.

On Thursday 20 April at 14.00, the two Colombian victims’ representatives will submit the complaint to the NCP in The Hague.

Download the complaint (pdf)

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