Community reps in London to challenge world’s biggest mining multinational
October 28, 2009
Representatives of communities facing displacement by the massive Cerrejon mine are attending the Annual General Meeting of BHP Billiton plc in London on Thursday 29 October.
BHP Billiton is the biggest mining company in the world. Its headquarters are in Australia but it is also listed on the London Stock Exchange. BHP Billiton owns one-third of the Cerrejon Coal Company, which operates the biggest opencast coal export mine in the world. The mine is in the Colombian department (province) of La Guajira.
In 2007, in response to continuing international criticism, Cerrejon Coal set up an Independent Panel of Investigation into the impacts of its operations. The Panel made a number of recommendations in early 2008. As a result, in December 2008, Cerrejon Coal reached an agreement with former residents of Tabaco, a community evicted and forcibly displaced for mine expansion in 2001 – see http://www.colombiasolidarity.org.uk/content/view/446/31/. The company also began negotiations aiming at community relocation (as opposed to individual family compensation) for other villages affected by the mine. The villages involved are Chancleta, Patilla, Roche and Tamaquitos.
The Presidents of the Community Action Committees of Chancleta and Roche, Wilman Palmesano and Yoe Arregoces, are in London to make their concerns known to shareholders in BHP Billiton. They complain that Cerrejon Coal is not negotiating with them in good faith. They are also concerned about threats being made against them because of their community organising and criticisms of the company. Today they are presenting to BHP Billiton and its shareholders the following Demands and Communique.
For further background, see below the Communique.
Demands of the communities of Roche and Chancleta
in the Department of La Guajira, Colombia, concerning the current process of community relocation by the Cerrejon Coal Company (33.33% owned by BHP Billiton)
In all aspects of the relocation, there should be mutual agreement and consultation. The company must abstain from dividing and manipulating the communities.
Expert advice: an independent advice team must be established, paid for by the company but not dependent upon it.
Cerrejon Coal has not followed the recommendations of the Independent Panel of Investigation and the World Bank guidelines on involuntary resettlement, even though these are the minimum standards which should be followed. We do not accept that these guidelines are sufficient and just for our communities, and so we insist that whatever process is carried out should be by prior mutual agreement.
There must be consultation and agreement on all the stages and elements of the relocation. Above all, the timetables and relocation plans must be discussed and agreed with the communities and their advisers. The communities’ own proposals must be taken into account. The communities must have a say and a vote in the selection of contractors.
There is a preference for collective relocation to a rural area, with sufficient land, a guarantee of economic sustainability after the relocation, good services (electricity, drinking water etc) and above all, good education.
There should be respect for the rights of all the traditional inhabitants of the area without discrimination or exclusion on the basis of censuses which do not reflect in a transparent manner the number of inhabitants of the communities. Members of the community who have sold the properties to the mine or have otherwise been displaced must be taken into account.
A solution must be found to health problems, addressing both the contamination and the treatment and prevention of illnesses; including, for example, access to specialists.
An overall agreement must be reached about the reconstruction of Roche, the area and the distribution of the rooms and houses, and their design. This must include elements of self-build as a way of generating employment and investment. Construction must not continue before reaching agreement on this. The same must apply to the other communities.
The property valuations must be handed over, and there must be negotiation about them. There must be clarity over the levels of compensation and indemnity.
There must be an end to the pressure and persecution which occur every time a proposal is made. Yoe and Wilman are worried about their security on their return to La Guajira.
There must be investment, productive economic projects and/or employment from now on during the process of relocation.
29 October 2009
Communique to the Cerrejon Coal company and its shareholders, the Colombian authorities
and national and international public opinion from representatives of the communities of Roche and Chancleta
in the Department of La Guajira, Colombia, affected by the Cerrejon coal mine (33.33% owned by BHP Billiton)
We, Yoe Arregoces and Wilman Palmesano, have been in Switzerland, Germany and the United Kingdom, explaining the situation which our communities are experiencing as a result of mining. We are seeking to be heard and we are seeking solutions to the most pressing problems that our people are facing. To this end, we have met with NGOs, government representatives, politicians, purchasers of coal, and the companies which own the Cerrejon mine.
Being in Europe, we have been worried about our security and physical and mental wellbeing when we return to our communities. We know from former visits by community and union leaders that they have frequently been subjected to accusations and all manner of pressures by the Cerrejon Coal company because of the statements they have made outside Colombia. Being here in Europe, we have learnt of a strong rumour about a possible incursion by paramilitary groups into the area where our communities are, and this increases our concern and creates anxiety in our communities and for us as well.
We call on the local, departmental and national authorities in Colombia and on the Cerrejon Coal company and its shareholders to take the measures necessary to guarantee the security of the communities and their leaders.
London, 29 October 2009
Background: community removals round the Cerrejon Coal mine
BHP Billiton was part of a consortium of three multinational companies which in late 2000 bought the Colombian Government’s 50% share of the massive opencast Cerrejon coal mine in the Department (province) of La Guajira in northern Colombia, reputedly the largest opencast coal mine in the world. The mine, operated by Exxon subsidiary Intercor (which owned the other 50% share) had a history of forced relocations of Indigenous and Afrocolombian communities, with inadequate or non-existent compensation, to make way for mine expansion.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Indigenous Wayuu communities were moved to make way for a coal export port at Puerto Bolivar, and for a railway built to carry coal from the mine to the port. Burial sites were desecrated and tensions caused between family groups as displaced families moved into the traditional territory of other families.
In August 2001, the small farming village of Tabaco, inhabited mainly by Colombians of African descent, was bulldozed by the mining company in a brutal operation accompanied by hundreds of armed soldiers and security personnel. In February 2002, the consortium of which BHP Billiton was a part bought the remaining 50% of the Cerrejon mine from Intercor. BHP Billiton now owns 33.33% of Cerrejon Coal, the mine’s operator.
A sustained campaign of community opposition followed, supported by dissident shareholders in BHP Billiton and others around the world. Some of the former residents of Tabaco organized themselves through the Tabaco Relocation Committee, which was demanding not only compensation for the destruction of homes and livelihoods but also community relocation to farmland of equivalent agricultural value – as the World Bank’s Guidelines on Involuntary Resettlement urge. The best that Cerrejon Coal was willing to offer was family by family financial payouts based on property valuations which many in the community disputed. In 2007 a complaint against BHP Billiton was made to the Australian National Contact Point of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
In response to the criticism, in 2007 BHP Billiton and the other two multinational companies involved in Cerrejon Coal (Anglo American and Xstrata) commissioned an Independent Panel of Investigation to look into Cerrejon Coal’s social programmes and its general impacts on local communities. The Panel found substance in much of the criticism that had been levelled at the company. It made a number of recommendations, particularly concerning a just settlement for the people of Tabaco. The Panel recommended, among other things, that Cerrejon Coal work with the Tabaco Relocation Committee as well as with other former residents of the village to ensure just compensation, buy collective land for agriculture and help construct a church and community centre for common use by former residents. The Panel also recommended that in future open, transparent negotiations take place with communities badly affected by the proximity of the mine, leading to collective relocation with community consent.
Cerrejon Coal and its three multinational shareholders, including BHP Billiton, broadly accepted the Panel’s recommendations. Negotiations with the Tabaco Relocation Committee led to an agreement in December 2008 which, according to the Relocation Committee’s lawyer, contained most of what the Committee had been struggling for, including the purchase of a piece of land to which families from the former settlement could be moved, in order to continue their life together as farmers. Negotiations began with other small farming communities facing relocation as the mine expands – Roche, Chancleta, Patilla and Tamaquitos.
But conflict continues. There has been strong criticism of the levels of financial compensation in the Tabaco agreement. Provision of infrastructure to the new community – roads, drainage, electricity – is the responsibility of the local authority, and therefore relies on good will from the local mayor. The land being bought by the company is sufficient for housing but insufficient for farming on the scale practiced at Tabaco. It is unclear how people will make a living.
Difficulties also remain for the communities currently facing displacement. There are disagreements over the number of people subject to relocation. The company refuses to acknowledge the need for productive land in the relocated settlements, even though it is essential for the communities to continue their agricultural activities. In recent years, people have found it almost impossible to support themselves as mining expansion has encroached on agricultural land, and while the relocation process is under way – a process which may take two years – people will have no means at all of supporting themselves. Community members accuse Cerrejon Coal of undermining their community leadership, taking decisions without consultation, publishing relocation timetables on the company’s website without informing the communities, calling meetings at short notice and causing confusion and divisions by cancelling meetings already agreed at the last minute, informing only some of the participants and not others. The company has not succeeded in creating a relationship of trust with the communities and community leaders. Community members remain in the dark about what they will eventually receive – what kind of houses, land, work and financial compensation.
Meanwhile, people are living in extremely difficult conditions, with blasting from the mine causing damage to homes, coal dust in the air causing skin and respiratory problems, land on which people used to work being swallowed up by mining activities or fenced off in readiness for mine expansion. People feel that their communities are being ‘strangled’. The Independent Panel of Investigation recommended that the company do more to ensure that people could make a living – including provision of services and financing of small-scale economic projects – but it has not done so to date.
At the same time, Cerrejon mine workers who are members of the SINTRACARBON trade union are concerned about the inferior working conditions of non-unionised contract workers at the mine. SINTRACARBON is also worried about exposure to coal dust. The union says that coal dust is a hazardous substance under Colombian law and that because of this the company is legally bound to pay higher social security contributions than it is currently paying, in order to facilitate earlier retirement for mine workers.
Public meeting on BHP Billiton in Colombia
Amnesty International UK’s Human Rights Action Centre
Karmen Ramirez works with Wayuu Indigenous women’s groups Cabildo Wayuu Nouna de Campamento and Sutsuin Jiyeyu Wayuu – Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu (SJW-FMW). The Wayuu People live between the mine and the coal export port of Puerto Bolivar. They are affected by the transportation of coal from the mine and the militarisation of the area to protect the company’s interests.
Yoe Arregoces and Wilman Palmesano represent the Afrocolombian communities of Roche and Chancleta, which face relocation as the Cerrejon coal mine expands and which, despite company protestations of goodwill, are being deprived of means of making a living while negotiations on relocation continue.
Karmen, Yoe and Wilman are in London for the Annual General Meeting of the world’s biggest mining company, BHP Billiton, which owns one-third of the Cerrejon mine along with two other massive multinational mining companies listed on the London Stock Exchange – Anglo American and Xstrata. The AGM takes place at 11am on Thursday 29 October. Yoe, Wilman and Karmen will make clear to shareholders the failures of BHP Billiton to ensure that the Cerrejon mine treats affected communities justly. They will also speak at the launch of an ‘alternative report’ on the company’s activities which will take place at Amnesty UK’s Human Rights Action Centre at 2pm on Tuesday 27 October.
Organised by LMN member group Colombia Solidarity Campaign.