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ESB referred to OECD over importing coal from north Colombian mine

A charity has submitted a formal complaint about the ESB allegedly breaching its human rights commitments.

Two young boys looking at the El Cerrejón coal transportation train in La Guajira, Colombia
Two young boys looking at the El Cerrejón coal transportation train in La Guajira, Colombia
Image: Shutterstock/Anamaria Mejia

A CHARITY HAS referred the ESB to the OECD over alleged breaches of human rights by importing coal from a mine in northern Colombia.

Christian Aid said that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will begin the process of investigating whether the State-owned ESB has breached its human-rights responsibilities by importing coal from the Cerrejón mine in La Guajira.

The ESB has said that an international organisation it is a member of found no breaches of human rights or ethics, and that it has visited the mining site – but added it is remaining “vigilant” on the reports of issues at the Cerrejón mine.

The Cerrejón mine, located at the Colombian border with Venezuela, is one of the world’s largest open pit coal mines, and Colombia’s largest coal exporter.

A formal complaint was lodged against the ESB today by Christian Aid, the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) as well as a coalition of Colombian and international human rights and environmental NGOs.

Parallel complaints have also been filed simultaneously with the OECD in Australia, the UK and Switzerland against the three international mining giants that own Cerrejón – Australia’s BHP, the British company Anglo American, and Glencore respectively.

A separate complaint with the OECD’s National Contact Point in Ireland has also been lodged against the Dublin-based Coal Marketing Company (CMC), which is the exclusive marketer of coal from the Colombian mine.

CMC is accused of being complicit in ongoing environmental harms and human rights abuses at the mine. GLAN has instructed international lawyer Monica Feria-Tinta to act in this multi-jurisdictional legal action.

The ESB has purchased millions of tonnes of coal from Cerrejón; since 2001, the bulk of the coal burned at Moneypoint power plant in Co Clare has come from this mine.

While ESB has not imported coal from Cerrejón since 2018, it has yet to confirm that it will not do so in the future nor has it formally terminated its relationship with the mine.

Source: /Flourish

Indigenous communities

The complaint outlines how ESB has failed to take the necessary actions to identify, mitigate and prevent human rights abuses linked to the Cerrejón mine despite what Christian Aid calls “well-documented evidence” of forced displacement of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and intimidation of activists, as well as pollution of local rivers and contributing to air pollution.

If the complaint is successful, ESB will need to take steps to comply with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

These include permanently ending its relationship with the mine and issuing a formal apology to the affected communities for its part in causing harm.

The ESB’s response

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the ESB said that it has kept the lines of communication open with Christian Aid on its concerns in relation to Cerrejón mine, but has not been advised of a complaint being made under the OECD Guidelines, so “cannot comment directly on its substance”.

“ESB would consider any such complaint if and when made and would co-operate with the relevant Department,” it said.

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It made the following points: “ESB confirms that it purchased coal from the Cerrejón mine in the past. In the period 2015-2018 ESB purchased just over 2% of the coal mine’s output. ESB purchased no coal from Cerrejón in 2019 or 2020.”

It said that in 2014, the ESB joined the ‘Bettercoal’ organisation which promotes “continuous improvement in the mining and sourcing of coal to the benefit of all of the people impacted by the mining industry”.

In 2016, Bettercoal assessed Cerrejón in detail across 31 criteria which include human rights, workers’ rights, ethics, community engagement, environment, pollution, biodiversity and compliance with laws and regulations.

The ESB said that that assessment did not record “any misses or fails for any of the criteria”. ESB senior managers have also visited the Cerrejón site and met directly with workers, community leaders and trade union officials.

“ESB is aware of issues reported in the media in relation to the Cerrejón mine. We are committed to remaining vigilant on all of these issues we will continue to engage with Bettercoal to exert influence and drive improvements. As a matter of course we bring such issues to Bettercoal for their assessment.”

Gerry Liston, Legal Officer with GLAN, said: “This complaint outlines very significant breaches by ESB of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

“As a state-owned enterprise, ESB cannot continue to ignore its involvement in serious human rights and environmental abuses. It must recognise its human rights obligations and immediately end its relationship with Cerrejón for good.”

Rosa María Mateus Parra, lawyer with CAJAR, a Colombian human rights organisation and signatory to the complaint, said:

“This is a striking example of the role played by large multinational companies in fuelling injustice.
“The people of La Guajira have borne the huge social and environmental costs of the mine, while harmful fossil fuel coal is exported around the world in the midst of the climate crisis and a small number of companies record huge profits.” 

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