In Cesar in Colombia, a large number of victims are still suffering from the consequences of abuses perpetrated by paramilitary groups between 1996 and 2006. Vattenfall purchases hard coal from the region. In conjunction with the Annual General Meeting in Stockholm, the company's Head of Sustainability, Annika Ramsköld, recently met, among others, Maira Mendez Barboza, whose father, an active trade union member, was shot dead by paramilitaries.
Vattenfall currently has seven hard coal plants for electricity generation and heat production in the Netherlands and Germany. Hard coal is purchased in various markets. In 2015, 15% of Vattenfall's hard coal came from the mining province of Cesar in Colombia.
Tens of thousands of victims
According to NGO PAX's report 'The Dark Side of Coal – Paramilitary Violence in the Mining Region of Cesar, Colombia', published in June 2014, tens of thousands of victims in the Cesar coalmining region still suffer from their traumatic experiences of paramilitary abuses and/or forced displacement between 1996 and 2006.
In its report, PAX claims that mining companies Drummond and Prodeco/Glencore provided financial and logistical support to paramilitary groups to secure and expand mining operations.
Both companies reject PAX’s allegations.
Representatives from PAX attended Vattenfall's Annual General Meeting, AGM, on Wednesday 27 April, together with Maira Mendez Barboza from Colombia.
After the meeting, they met Vattenfall's Head of Sustainability, Annika Ramsköld, and Martijn Hagens, Head of the Customers & Solutions Business Area.
How did the meeting go?
"The atmosphere was very open and it was characterized by a willingness to give and receive different points of view, even though in the final analysis we have somewhat different opinions about the way forward," Annika Ramsköld says.
The Danish power company Dong Energy has temporarily suspended its purchases of hard coal from Prodeco/Glencore in Colombia while awaiting the result of a review.
Why doesn't Vattenfall do the same?
"We believe that the call to stop buying coal from certain mines impedes the opportunities for continuous improvement. We are aware of the situation in Colombia and what has happened in the region. For us it is important to contribute to a beneficial dialogue between the mining companies, the population and the Colombian government. We also want to contribute to the reconciliation process in the country. The vulnerable deserve recognition."
"We feel that progress is being made in the process. One of the reasons for this is that we, along with many others, have put pressure on the mining companies and the government. We have also signed an agreement with the Dutch government with a view to improving the social framework and the environmental conditions in the international coal supply chain. Together with bodies including PAX, Vattenfall, represented by Martijn Hagens and Sustainability Advisor Joël Frijhoff, participated in a Dutch trade delegation that visited Colombia in 2015. We believe that there is room to put pressure on companies and the government, but naturally, our patience is not infinite."
'Comes with responsibility'
Why does Vattenfall buy hard coal from Colombia?
"It is both technically and commercially attractive. With the decision to buy Colombian coal comes a responsibility to take steps to improve the supply chain when needed and this is what we are doing through a variety of steps. These include participating in the European organisation Bettercoal, which has the aim of exploring the terrain in relation to mining operations and the environment, and when necessary implementing improvements, but also through direct contacts with the mining companies."
What was PAX's and Maira Mendez Barboza's overall message?
"Maira still doesn't know who murdered her father. Of course, she would dearly like to find out. We can't do much in this specific case, but we do want to contribute to a satisfactory situation going forward, where victims are acknowledged and they receive reasonable compensation for their suffering."
"PAX presented its desire for more transparent information about the companies from which we buy hard coal and also about which companies are not fulfilling our requirements. We will take this away and discuss internally how we can become more transparent."