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Vattenfall hits the right notes on blood coal

28-04-2017

At its annual general meeting in Stockholm, the Swedish energy company Vattenfall showed a willingness to help solve the human rights abuses involved in the extraction of coal from the Cesar mining district of Colombia.

PAX is encouraged by Vattenfall’s constructive position and expects the company to follow through with strong action.

PAX’s Maina van der Zwan attended the meeting. “It was clear that Vattenfall's attitude to its own responsibility has changed over the years. There is a willingness to help realize results for the victims.”

Leverage
This willingness was expressed by Vattenfall´s CEO Magnus Hall. “It is our intention to demand concrete actions from all actors. We want to help realize reconciliation for the victims, and we will use our economic leverage to push the progress.”

Vattenfall is conducting a Human Rights Impact Assessment in Colombia. The results will be published this summer. PAX went to Colombia to observe the Vattenfall inquiry, and was impressed by the thoroughness of the investigation.

Violence in Cesar
The mining region of Cesar has seen extreme violence and forced displacements. Between 1996 and 2006 over 55.000 farmers were displaced by paramilitary violence and 3100 people were killed. In the past years threats and assaults by new paramilitary groups increased again. Since Vattenfall’s last annual general meeting, three social leaders from communities that were in conflict with the mining companies were assassinated in Cesar. Many more receive death threats, often directed at children and other family members.

During the meeting in Stockholm, Vattenfall’s chariman of the board of directors, Lars Nordström, said, “We don't want to continue business as usual, and we don't want to cut and run. We want to take the third road -- demanding improvements and backing it up with economic pressure. A long term goal cannot be an alibi for doing nothing on the short term, also when it comes to human rights.”

PAX’s van der Zwan says this is an important step. “The main question is if Vattenfall is going to have the courage to demand significant action from the mining companies to address the lack of remedy and the current violence. Only then will they become frontrunners among European energy companies in address the problems with blood coal.”

RWE stagnant
In contrast to the mood in Stockholm, at its annual general meeting in Essen, the German energy company RWE continues to refuse to take any substantial action regarding blood coal. RWE is one of the most important buyers of  coal from the Cesar region, supplying daughter companies in Germany, the UK and the Netherlands. In its defence, RWE once again pointed to its membership of the Better Coal group. But Better Coal has no mandate to address human rights violations, as the organization itself has indicated. RWE’s contacts with its suppliers has also proved ineffective in addresses the alleged abuses.

PAX’s Wouter Kolk attended the meeting. “RWE’s attitude towards the grave human rights impact in their coal supply remains very disappointing. Where other energy companies, such as Vattenfall, DONG and ENEL, show an increasing willingness to take up their responsibilities, RWE refuses to use its economic leverage to push for concrete measures that address both the current violence in the Cesar mining region and takes clear steps towards reconciliation and remedy for victims of past human rights violations in the area.”

Natural Resources, Conflict & Human Rights, Colombia

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