COLOMBIA VISIT COULD LEAD TO IMPROVEMENTS IN THE COAL DISTRICTS

Colombia Vattenfall works for positive changes in Colombia. Three-week audit trip concluded.

During three weeks in March, Vattenfall conducted an analysis of the impact Vattenfall´s sourcing of coal in Colombia has on human rights. Based on this, Vattenfall will, in dialogue with the coal mines, be able to contribute and push for improvements on location.

The work was conducted by Esther Rodriguez, Senior Sustainability Advisor and Joel Frijhoff, Responsible Sourcing Manager in BA Markets. 

“It is important to meet face to face with those who play a role in the mining industry and those that are affected by coal mining to get a more complete picture. Altogether we took part in over fifty different meetings,” says Esther Rodriguez.

Joel Frijhoff adds:
“The Colombian reality is extremely complex. On location, you realise that nothing is black or white, that there are many shades of grey and getting an objective and accurate picture of the situation is sometimes difficult. There are many different stakeholders with conflicting agendas and the lack of trust between parties makes it very hard to agree on joint solutions. In our view, in most cases the solution is not in the hands of a single player, for example the companies.”

Vattenfall’s Code of Conduct for suppliers is based on UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights.

Rodriguez and Frijhoff visited four mining companies and a selection of impacted communities in northern Colombia. The coal mines are located in Cesar and La Guajira, where the coal industry is a very important employer. They also met representatives from the mining companies, central government, local authorities, civil society, lawyers, collective trade unions and the local communities. The NGOs PAX, Forum Syd and Civil Rights Defenders were observers during parts of the visits.

The discussions touched upon several topics, such as the relocation of villages affected by coal mining, how to address water pollution and access, and coal dust impacting the health of nearby residents.

Most of the issues are systematic, derived from a weakness in institutions and lack of accountability at government level.

But Vattenfall intends to do what it can to actively promote developments in line with the UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights. Also, there is an expectation in Colombia to do so.

“This expectation became very clear not only when we spoke to communities and NGOs but also government institutions which see the purchasing power of companies as a driver for good and a source for capacity building,” says Rodriguez.

Vattenfall visited a number of local communities in the mining districts during the three week visit.

Joël Frijhoff points out:
"In some communities, such as in the Cesar region, even though they are impacted by mining operations and are critical to the mining activities, they expressed their view that European energy companies should not stop buying from Colombia. What they want is mining conducted in a responsible way.”

However, the view was somewhat different in La Guajira, where indigenous communities were more antagonistic towards coal mining.

Before the summer Rodriguez and Frijhoff will finalise a report describing the main impacts Vattenfall has on human rights through the sourcing of coal in Colombia. The recommendations will be directed to the mining companies but also to the Colombian government.

They will also prepare single reports on the various mining operations with suggestions for improvement that will be discussed with the mining companies.

“Most importantly; we will also monitor closely how agreed improvements are being implemented. We heard too often statements such as ‘every year we get visitors from Europe, they listen to us, but nothing happens’. We would like this to change and also to be able to measure how Vattenfall has contributed to positive change,” says Rodriguez.

The mining companies will be evaluated against Vattenfall’s Code of Conduct for suppliers.

“It is through this code that we define the requirements we put on our suppliers, striving to ensure they handle their operations and their suppliers in a responsible manner,” says Annika Ramsköld, Head of Sustainability at Vattenfall. “Based on the evaluations we define areas of concern and put requirements on those involved. In Colombia we see that our discussions have led to increased awareness and that steps are taken in the right directions.”

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