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NGOs file complaint before OECD, demand closure of Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia

Cerrejón operation in Colombia. (Image courtesy of Cerrejón).

A coalition of human rights and environmental NGOs led by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) are demanding before the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development the closure of the Cerrejón coal project in Colombia, which is owned by Anglo American (LON: AAL), BHP (ASX, LON, NYSE: BHP) and Glencore (LON: GLEN).

This week, the activists filed simultaneous complaints before the OECD National Contact Points in Australia, Ireland, Switzerland and the UK, alleging “serious human rights abuses and devastating environmental pollution” at Cerrejón.

According to GLAN, the complaints outline how Cerrejón is linked to the forced displacement of Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, the pollution of the air and water in the vicinity of the mine, and high cancer and metal intoxication rates among people in the communities surrounding the operation.

The NGOs accuse Cerrejón of “serious human rights abuses and devastating environmental pollution”

Cerrejón is an integrated mining and transportation complex in Colombia’s La Guajira province, in the northeastern region of the country, which includes an open-pit mine, a 150-kilometres railway line and a Caribbean port. In 2020, the mine produced 12.4 million tonnes of coal, almost 50% less than the output it registered the year before.

But the NGOs pushing against the mine want production to be zero.

“If successful, the three companies which jointly own the Cerrejón mine will have to take steps to comply with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, including progressively closing down the mine in full and environmental restoration,” GLAN said in a media statement.

“The complaints against the mining giants also call for the full compensation of communities for the harms they have suffered.”

The activists also filed separate complaints against Dublin-based Coal Marketing Company, which is the exclusive marketer of coal from the Colombian mine, as well as Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board, which has been a major purchaser of the mine’s coal.

BHP, Anglo American and Glencore ready to engage

In response, Cerrejón issued a statement saying that the NGOs did not engage with the mine’s owners before filing their complaints with the NCPs and, therefore, a formal response is yet to be prepared.

“Once we are aware of the full details of their concerns, we will respond in detail,” the communiqué reads. “Cerrejón is committed to operating in adherence to Colombian legislation and judicial rulings as well as the appropriate international guidelines governing human and environmental rights.”

BHP, Anglo American and Glencore emphasized that Cerrejón is in regular contact with the communities close to the mine and that its consultation and engagement programs go beyond the requirements set out in Colombian law. 

BHP, Anglo American and Glencore say Cerrejón operates under appropriate international guidelines governing human and environmental rights

“We have a large number of commitments in place, agreed with the communities themselves, to address legacy issues in a way that is in line with current international standards and that also seeks to respond to community expectations for the future,” the media brief states.

“Given the number of communities and the social complexities of the region, this involves responding to voices that are not always united in perspectives.”

According to Cerrejón, throughout its 30-year operation, the mine has continually been adopting social, environmental and human rights standards as they have evolved, following international best-practices. 

“Cerrejón is ready to engage with the National Contact Points and provide all the information required,” the corporate statement reads. “We strongly encourage them to visit the mine in La Guajira, when possible, considering the current global pandemic, in order to see the operation first-hand and understand the context and challenges faced.”

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