Earlier this month, Bettercoal was made aware of a complaint submitted to multiple National Contact Points of the OECD against Cerrejón – a Bettercoal Supplier – and its three majority shareholders (BHP, Anglo American and Glencore) and the ESB – a Bettercoal Member – over allegations of serious human rights abuses and environmental pollution at the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia. The complaint was submitted by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), supported by Christian Aid, the Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular (CINEP), the Colectivo de Abogados ‘José Alvear Restrepo’ (CAJAR), the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), Arbeitsgruppe Schweiz Kolumbien (ask!), and ABColombia.
Bettercoal will not comment on the investigation or the complaint itself as we are not privy to the details, but we take the opportunity to present our interactions with Cerrejón and the work that has been done to date with the company since it was assessed against the Bettercoal Code v1.1 in 2018. The public report on Cerrejon’s performance is publicly available in English and Spanish on the Bettercoal website. This public report, as well as the full Assessment Report, highlight that Cerrejón’s performance on Human Rights can still further improve, but also noted the significant progress made since 2011. It also acknowledged the issues around water stewardship but also recognised the efforts put in by the company to deal with the majority of community concerns.
Bettercoal’s assessment process does not claim to be exhaustive, but part of the assessment involves interviews with affected communities. During the Cerrejón assessment in 2018, independent assessors interviewed: INDEPAZ, Instituto Alexander von Humoldt –IavH, Guajira 360º, Guajira Regional Ombudsman, Sintracarbónand Sintracerrejón, as well as Community representatives from Kamusuchiwou, Julimakat and Piskit, Resguardo 4 de noviembre, Resguardo San Francisco, Resguardo Provincial, Tabaco, Aronshin, Orrokot, Aruatachon, Los Remedios, Campo Herrera, Tamaquito, Patilla, Roche, Chancleta.
Following the site-assessment, a detailed Continuous Improvement Plan was put in place and agreed to by Cerrejón. Many actions have been taken to remedy some of the issues identified during the assessment and Cerrejon is providing detailed evidence to the auditors on a quarterly basis.
The issues raised as part of the complaint to the OECD – in as much as we understand – are concerns which have been highlighted by some organisations in the past and which Bettercoal has discussed with Cerrejón, local actors but also with many of the NGOs supporting the complaint.
Bettercoal created in 2019 a Colombia Working Group whose Members are focused on following up on the Continuous Improvement Plans of Bettercoal Suppliers in Colombia, including Cerrejon. The group also has regular engagements with key Colombian stakeholders including local communities, NGOs, government as well as the mining companies. Human Rights, the peace and reconciliation process, unionisation are all issues which we regularly engage on with these stakeholders. The next engagement will be taking place, sadly virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in March 2021. Bettercoal will be engaging not only with Cerrejón but also with relevant Colombian ministries, the Consejeria and many others to explore what actions can be taken. We were also hoping to engage with impacted communities directly, but this is proving challenging given the virtual nature of the engagement. This is why we have been also in discussions with international NGOs like Pax and Urgewald to get their perspective on these issues.
Three topics have been outlined as priorities for the working group:
Fostering increased dialogue in the peace building process: Bettercoal supports the peace building process in the mining regions and to that effect members of the CWG have agreed to support the Regional Center for Responsible Businesses and Entrepreneurship (Centro Regional de Empresas y Emprendimientos Responsables or CREER) multi-stakeholder dialogue project Building Trust in Cesar, one of the most important coal mining regions in Colombia. We are also pleased to see that CREER have begun to work also in La Guajira.
Access to clean water: Given the relevance that water has not only as a basic human need, but also for economic activities and its cultural and religious importance, the CWG believes that in such a context a holistic approach to water management would be beneficial. In this line, the CWG has started to explore how such a project would be developed in the region of La Guajira in Colombia in close collaboration with third parties that have vast experience in these type of projects.
Mine closure: Apart from addressing this topic in discussions with the coal mining companies, the CWG has identified the “just transition” project which has recently formally applied for subsidy under the Dutch FVO Partnerships program as an opportunity for Bettercoal to further address and contribute to the long-term regional development as overarching goal. This project aims to support the transition in Colombian mining regions from coal mining dominance towards a more diversified local economy and to reduce the negative impact of a declined coal demand.
Finally, Bettercoal is launching the new Bettercoal Code 2.0 at the end of February. This is an opportunity for all Bettercoal Suppliers who have undergone an assessment to undergo reassessment. We anticipate that all Suppliers will be re-assessed within the next 24 months and we will be encouraging Cerrejon to do so as soon as feasible.