Cerrejón is one of the largest open-pit mines in the world and has been the source of disputes with activists and the local community over water use, pollution, dust, noise and health problems © Nicolo Filippo Rosso/Bloomberg

Activists have turned to the OECD in an effort to bring about the closure of a thermal coal mine in Colombia owned by three of the world’s biggest natural resource companies.

The Global Legal Action Network claims Anglo American, BHP and Glencore — joint owners of the Cerrejón mine — have failed to meet standards for multinational enterprises (MNE) developed by the Paris-based organisation.

It alleges that persistent expansion of the mine over the past four decades has led to ruinous environmental degradation with a serious impact on human rights.

GLAN has filed complaints in Australia, Ireland, Switzerland and the UK with the OECD contact points charged with ensuring compliance with the guidelines.

“Compliance requires the progressive closure of the Cerrejón mine and the immediate closure of the pits which are located close to human settlements, the complaint said.

“According to the MNE Guidelines, the enterprise must also remedy the human rights impacts caused by its activities. Such remediation will require environmental rehabilitation.”

Anglo American, BHP and Glencore did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The move to involve the OECD comes as Anglo American and BHP look to sell their interests in Cerrejón, where there have been long-running disputes with activists and the local community over water use, pollution, dust, noise and health problems.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in September called on the Colombian government to suspend some of Cerrejon’s operations, saying it had “seriously damaged the environment” and health of the country’s largest indigenous community, the Wayúu people.

Cerrejón has said it is meeting changes requested by Colombian courts to improve the water and air quality, and decrease noise levels.

Cerrejón is one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, covering about 69,000 hectares in the La Guajira region of Colombia.

GLAN, which is being supported by Christian Aid Ireland and CAJAR, a Colombian activist group, claims the joint owners of the mine are responsible for the harm caused by its operations.

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GLAN has also lodged complaints against Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board (ESB), once a big buyer of the mine’s thermal coal, which is burnt in power stations to generate electricity.

In a statement the ESB said it was not aware of any complaint being made under the OECD Guidelines.

“ESB confirms that it purchased coal from the Cerrejón mine in the past. In the period 2015-2018 ESB purchased just over two per cent of the coal mine’s output. ESB purchased no coal from Cerrejón in 2019 or 2020,” it said.

Cerrejón said was committed to operating in adherence to Colombian legislation and judicial rulings as well as the appropriate international guidelines governing human and environmental rights.

 “Cerrejón is ready to engage with the National Contact Points and provide all the information required. We strongly encourage them to visit the mine in La Guajira, when possible, considering the current global pandemic, in order to see the operation first-hand and understand the context and challenges faced,” it said in a statement.

Cerrejón has struggled in recent years with production falling sharply last year due to Covid-19 and a strike, which ended in December.

Big mining companies are under heightened pressure to improve their relations with indigenous communities following the destruction last year of a sacred aboriginal site by Rio Tinto to make way for the expansion of an iron ore mine in Australia.

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