Cerrejón Accused before the OECD of Human Rights Abuses and Environmental Damage

On 19 January 2021, ABColombia together with Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular (CINEP), the Colectivo de Abogados ‘José Alvear Restrepo’ (CAJAR), and the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defence (AIDA) and ASK! Switzerland supported Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and Christian Aid Ireland in filing complaint to Multiple National Contact Points (NCPs) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) requesting that they investigate multinational mining giants (BHP, Anglo American and Glencore) and Ireland’s state-owned energy provider, the ESB, over serious human rights abuses and shocking environmental pollution at the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia. The complaints were filed simultaneously, against BHP in Australia, ESB and CMC in Ireland, Glencore in Switzerland and Anglo American in UK.

OECD Complaint Against the Parent Companies of the Cerrejón Mine

OECD complaint related to the human rights abuses and environmental damage that the Cerrejón mine in La Guajira Colombia has caused to the Wayuu Indigenous and the Afro-Colombian communities living around the mine. Cerrejón is jointly owned by British registered multinational giants BHP and Anglo American and the Swiss company Glencore. The complaints were filed simultaneously, against the parent companies BHP in Australia, Glencore in Switzerland and Anglo American in the UK.

Electricity Supply Board (ESB)

Ireland’s ESB company, which is 95 percent owned by the Irish state, has purchased millions of tonnes of coal from Cerrejón over the past two decades. Twothirds of the coal burned at ESB’s Moneypoint power station in County Clare since 2001 has come from Cerrejón.

In 2019, the the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) recommended that the ESB should stop buying Cerrejón coal, and that Ireland should take steps to ensure restitution and compensation for victims of human rights abuses. In its 2020 Concluding Observations on Ireland, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern that ‘the operation of the Cerrejón mine complex in La Guajira, Colombia… from which the State party [through ESB] has purchased coal for one of its power stations in County Clare, has been linked with serious abuses of human rights, in particular affecting people of African descent and indigenous peoples…’

ESB says that it has not imported coal from Cerrejón since 2018, but it has never publicly committed to ending its relationship with the mine for good. 

The Coal Marketing Company (CMC)

Cerrejón sells all its coal through the Coal Marketing Company (CMC), which is based in Dublin. It creates and manages all of Cerrejón’s supply chains. A complaint has also been submitted to the Irish NCP about CMC’s contribution to Cerrejón’s adverse impacts.

The Cerrejón Mine

The Cerrejón mine is one of the largest open pit coal mines in the world, covering approximately 69,000 hectares of land in the administrative region of La Guajira in Colombia. The persistent expansion of the mine over the past four decades has led to ruinous environmental degradation with serious human rights impacts. The air in La Guajira contains particulate matter in excess of the limits recommended by the WHO and imposed on Cerrejón by the Colombian courts. Annually there are over 400 emergency room visits and over 336,000 respiratory symptom cases in La Guajira directly attributable to the mine. High concentrations of harmful metals, which can cause diseases such as cancer, were found by Colombia’s Constitutional Court to exist in the blood of those living nearby.

The Cerrejón mine is one of the largest open pit coal mines in the world. The persistent expansion of the mine over the past four decades has led to ruinous environmental degradation with serious human rights impacts. The air in La Guajira contains particulate matter in excess of the limits recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

As well as contaminating the air in La Guajira, the mine consumes and contaminates significant quantities of water. Studies on the Ranchería River have found unsafe levels of harmful metals in the water, including mercury and lead. The Ranchería River is the principal waterway in the region, and many communities once relied upon it for their domestic and farming activities.  The River’s flow was previously fed by 23 main tributaries, among them the Arroyo Bruno, which has been recently diverted despite a court judgment finding that it could violate fundamental rights.   The Arroyo Bruno supports the ecosystem of a tropical dry forest, which is in critical danger of extinction.

La Guajira is the ancestral homeland of the indigenous Wayúu people. Many Wayúu communities have been displaced to make way for the mine. Afro-Colombian and campesinos communities, who also live in the region, have faced similar forced displacement. At times, evictions have been carried out with armed guards, tear gas, and metal projectiles; and in 2016, bulldozers were used to destroy an Afro-Colombian village. Even when Cerrejón claims to have consulted with displaced communities, it has not offered a genuinely free choice as to relocation. Consultation is premised on the assumption that expansion will continue.

In the most recent Constitutional Court judgment, the impacts caused by the mine arise within ‘a general context characterised by indigenous communities that present a high degree of vulnerability, and large-scale mining exploitation puts their environment and health at risk’.  These impacts have been recognised by at least fourteen Colombian court decisions, and the mine’s failure to comply with domestic court rulings has seriously undermined the rule of law in Colombia. 

In 2020, Cerrejón’s activities were also denounced by UN Special Procedures. David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, remarked that ‘the situation … regarding the El Cerrejón mine and the Wayúu indigenous people is one of the most disturbing situations that I have learned about in my two and half years as Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.

This complaint forms part of a broader, decades-long effort to hold the owners of the Cerrejón mine to account.

Listen to a statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David Boyd talking about the Cerrejón mine in Colombia or listen to it on YouTube

Watch the video from Chancleta were the communities talk about the violation of their rights

Chancleta is an Afro-descendant community in La Guajira, Colombia that was forced to relocate when the Cerrejón mine, owned by multinational giants BHP, Anglo American and Glencore, expanded the the coal mine. Members of the community have made a video to explain to the world how their rights are being violated, the lack of respect that Cerrejón has shown to their Community Council and the way that the company has chosen only to engage with a small section of the community rather than the whole community. By engaging with only a few families, despite the community persistently asking them to engage with all representatives, the company appears to be trying to cause divisions and to weaken the position that the community has taken,instead of respecting the Afro-descendant Community Council’s regulations. This has left the community seriously concerned about the intentions of the Cerrejón mine.