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SOMO assists Colombian coal miners and unions with OECD Guidelines complaint to defend workers’ rights

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At the request of Dutch and Colombian unions, SOMO, along with fellow OECD Watch member PLADES (Peru), has advised and supported the Colombian unions, CGT and SINTRADEM, in lodging an official complaint against U.S.-based coal mining company Drummond for alleged abuses of labour and human rights in its operations in the Cesar Department in Colombia. For years, Colombian trade unions have pressured Drummond to improve working conditions in its coal mines. Many mine workers suffer from pneumoconiosis, a disease of the lungs due to inhalation of dust. Until recently, mine workers had immense difficulty drawing attention to their cause because unions were not allowed access to the mines.

Sick workers organised by creating the trade union of diseased and disabled workers of the mining sector (SINTRADEM) in 2014. This was followed by attempts by Drummond to dissolve the trade union and prevent collective bargaining, which included a case reaching the Colombian High Court. In June 2016, the High Court ruled on the matter, upholding an earlier judgment by a court of first instance, dismissing the claims of Drummond Ltd. and pointing out that the company was not legally entitled to file such a lawsuit. However, the company has continued to seek to prevent the union from forming and has refused to negotiate, in violation of the workers’ rights under national law and international standards and ILO Conventions. This is the moment when the unions requested SOMO’s help.

OECD Guidelines and filing the complaint

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Corporations clarify expectations of all 46 signatory governments regarding corporate social responsibility of companies doing business internationally. The guidelines contain expectations regarding: respect for human rights and the environment, preventing child labour and taking responsibility to avoid and address wrongdoings in supply chains. Each OECD member has its own National Contact Point (NCP) where official complaints can be filed. SOMO and PLADES assisted the unions in researching and drafting a complaint, which was filed with Colombia’s National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines in July 2016. The complaint was the first one ever filed with Colombia’s newly-formed NCP. The Colombian NCP has declared the complaint eligible and is currently attempting to bring the parties together for mediation. SOMO and PLADES continue to support the Colombian unions in this process.

Direct link with Dutch energy companies

Much of the coal used to generate electricity in the Netherlands comes from controversial Colombian mining projects; nearly half of the coal that is used in the Dutch market originates from Colombia. Drummond is one of the largest suppliers of coal to Dutch power-plant-exploiting companies like RWE/Essent, Vattenfall/Nuon, E.ON, and Engie. The energy companies at the end of this supply chain have a shared responsibility to combat labour rights abuses in the coal mines. Given the direct link with Dutch power companies, and the fact that this is the Colombian NCP’s first case, the Colombian unions have also requested that the Dutch NCP closely monitor and assist the Colombian NCP in handling the case.

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