Violence and threats are an everyday occurrence in the Colombian mining region Cesar, states the recent report, “Civil Society Under Threat,” by Dutch human rights NGO Pax. Also, in the beginning of September Colombian social activist Néstor Iván Martínez was brutally killed by unidentified perpetrators.
Vattenfall is one of the European energy companies buying hard coal from Colombia.
“We are appalled by the information presented in the Pax report and the recent murder of Mr. Martínez,” says Annika Ramsköld, head of Corporate Sustainability at Vattenfall. “We are strongly committed to use our commercial leverage to improve the situation on the ground in Colombia and during this year, we have intensified our work to influence the development of human rights in the country.”
Vattenfall uses several channels to seek a deeper understanding of the situation in the region and to influence commercial stakeholders. Discussion partners include the UN Global Compact in Colombia, the Swedish and Dutch embassies, NGOs such as Dutch Pax, German Urgewald and Swedish Forum Syd as well as the concerned suppliers of coal and other European buyers of coal.
Ramsköld says that NGOs play an important role in this context.
“By pushing human rights issues to the top of the public agenda, NGOs provide us with additional insights into the situation around mine sites. They also approach us with quite concrete and demanding requests to how we can improve our corporate responsibility in this area.
“Although it is fair to state that we do not always agree on the means and pace when pushing mining companies to improve the human rights situation, we feel that we are at least united in a common goal,” Ramsköld says.
“To leave Colombia is not an option for us at the moment as we feel this would not solve any problems for people living there. By staying in the country and putting the issue of human rights on the agenda we aim to convince company executives and politicians to act,” Ramsköld says.
Criterias for coal suppliers
Vattenfall uses a thorough risk-screening and due diligence process for all its coal suppliers in all parts of the world. In May this year, three additional criteria were added for Colombian coal suppliers. The aim was to ensure that mining companies publicly support the Colombian government in its efforts for reconciliation for past human rights violation in the Cesar region.
Preliminary results show that one of the major coal mining companies, Drummond, does not qualify as a direct supplier. In fact, Vattenfall has not sourced coal directly from Drummond since 2011. Although Drummond is not a direct supplier, Vattenfall is engaging with the company’s top management to take steps to improve. The other big mining company in the Cesar area, Glencore/Prodeco, does meet Vattenfall’s additional criteria and is eligible as a supplier.
Vattenfall is investigating to visit Colombia early next year to receive first-hand information by talking to local stakeholders. The goal of the visit is to learn more about the situation in and around the mines and to encourage suppliers to improve the current local situation, while at the same time address past human rights violations.
Vattenfall is using coal from Colombia and other countries in its coal fired power plants in Germany and the Netherlands. In 2015, Vattenfall sourced a total of 7 million tonnes of coal worldwide.