The OECD accepts complaints of human rights and due diligence standards violations made against the mining multinational owners of Cerrejón

By Prensa Cajar | Jan. 26 2022 | Land defence

The National Contact Points of Switzerland, Australia and the United Kingdom admitted the complaints submitted by various Colombian and international organisations against multinational companies Glencore, Anglo American and BHP, who own the Cerrejón Coal Company. Over the last two decades they have been profiting from Latin America’s largest open-cast coal mine, in La Guajira, Colombia.

On 10 January this year, various bodies from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) accepted complaints filed against multinationals BHP, Anglo American and Glencore, which accused them of failing to comply with the OECD’s guidelines on multinational companies and human rights in their management of operations at the Cerrejón mine.

The complaints were submitted in 2021 by Colombian organisations (CAJAR, CINEP and AIDA) alongside international organisations (GLAN, ABColombia, ASK and Christian Aid) to the National Contact Points of the OECD, located in Switzerland, Australia and the United Kingdom. They were also supported by numerous indigenous Wayuu and African descent community leaders, who have been historically impacted by this mega extraction project.

The content of the complaints was centred on condemning the companies’ participation in and direct responsibility for a litany of serious and systematic violations of environmental, human and cultural rights related to coal exploitation, demonstrating their failure to comply with the standards of due diligence and conduct for responsible businesses. It was also alleged that the companies ignored their enhanced protection and greater care obligations, as set out in the OECD guidelines, concerning contexts that involve ethnic minority populations, women and children, among other groups, where human rights are particularly vulnerable.

Despite constant violations by the mining industry being proven and recognised by Colombia’s highest legal authorities, including the Constitutional Court, responsibility has yet to be legally attributed to those at the head offices of Carbones del Cerrejón’s overseas owners. For decades, these multinationals have made excuses, saying they bear no corporate responsibility for any violations associated with the mine in Colombia, arguing that their involvement is minimal. In reality they were joint owners and direct beneficiaries in equal parts of the company in question.

The complaints were filed before Swiss mining company Glencore finalised its recent purchase which gave it full ownership of the mine. The actions of its outgoing Australian and British owners, BHP and Anglo American, will therefore be the ones investigated. In the complaints the OECD was urged not to ignore the outgoing multinationals’ responsibility for serious human rights violations at the Colombian mine. This is a particular point of interest in terms of where responsibilities and obligations lie in cases of responsible disassociation.

Due to the Glencore takeover, it was announced that the complaints process will preliminarily be led by the PNC of Switzerland, with support from its counterparts in the United Kingdom and Australia. In the context of the climate crisis, with tensions high between those who feel the urgency of moving away from fossil fuels and those with plans to deepen extractivism, companies making a responsible exit is something that needs to be thought about. For this reason, we are calling for the details of Glencore’s purchase of Cerrejón in La Guajira to be examined, especially in the wake of its questionable exit through the Prodeco group in the department of Cesar. When evaluating a company’s responsibilities, it is clear that they cannot simply sell their shares without fully accounting for and responding to their liabilities for human rights violations.

The next step in this process will be to establish protocols for the following complaint assessment stages. By exposing this problem in these applications, it is hoped that this could become a case study of the complex framework and architecture of impunity, inequality, and the huge barriers that victims of coal multinationals are confronted with. Given the extrajudicial and voluntary nature of the complaints process, it will be necessary to keep pushing for change and a binding agreement on companies and human rights which includes the real possibility for justice to triumph over the unfettered power of transnational corporations.

Anglo American, BHP and Glencore are all among the largest mining companies listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Translated from the original Spanish by Holly Jones