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Colombian communities vs. BHP Billiton

Case overview

Date filed 26 June 2007
Current status Concluded
Issue BHP Billiton and forced evictions at Colombian coal mine
Summary of the case Cerrejón Coal, one of the largest open-cut coal mines in the world, is co-owned by BHP-Billiton (Australia), Anglo-American (UK) and Xstrata (Switzerland). According to the complaint, Cerrejón has attempted to depopulate an area of the La Guajira peninsula by destroying a 200-year-old township-pueblo, Tabaco, and forcibly expelling the remaining population through a purported expropriation.

Another five communities are suffering from the effects of what is called locally ‘estrangulación’ (strangulation), actions taken by the company that are designed to make living unviable in the area and therefore drive the population out. The complainants allege that this has caused suffering and hardship for the former population of Tabaco and of the other five pueblos.

Developments/Outcome On 9 October 2007, the UK NCP organised a meeting in London with local Cerrejón Coal management, the Australian and Swiss NCPs, the companies and the complainants. Since then, emails have been exchanged, but no further mediation has occurred. At that meeting a proposed Third Party Review initiated by Cerrejón Coal was accepted by the NCP as a solution/answer for the complaint. The OECD Guidelines case was suspended until the Third Party Review published its report in March 2008.

In July 2008 the Australian NCP sent a draft final statement to the parties for comments. BHP Billiton and Xstrata claim that local Cerrejón management now has the capacity and the knowledge to conduct proper resettlement process and that there is no need for a third party mediation. However, although the resettlement processes is taking place on paper, no mutually agreed negotiation scheme has been agreed with the complainants, nor has the communities’ ability to negotiate improved.

A major step forward in a long protracted case was the December 2008 agreement reached between Cerrejón Coal and the township of Tobaco, which included contributions to indemnities of US$1.8 million and a further US$ 1.3 million for sustainable projects. A similar agreement has not been reached for the other five affected communities.

The complainants requested that the NCPs conduct fact-finding on the ground in Colombia either in person or through the respective embassies, but the Swiss NCP responded that the NCP does not have the human or financial resources to carry out local fact-finding or mediation, and that doing so would be a violation of national sovereignty. This seems to be at odds with the approaches of the UK and Dutch NCPs. The Swiss NCP further argued that local embassies cannot carry out the duties of the NCPs. The Swiss NCP mentioned that this may change after the upcoming review of the Guidelines and Procedural Guidance.

The Australian NCP held additional meetings in Australia with BHP and one of the complainants, but was unable to resolve the still-pending issues. On 12 June 2009 the Australian NCP closed the case and issued a final statement. The complainants objected to the closure, as concerns of the five communities have not been resolved. The final statement acknowledges this.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
Case keywords Forced evictions and resettlement, Parallel (legal) proceedings, Disclosure of information, Multiple NCPs

NCP Information

NCP name National Contact Point Australia
NCP address C/- The Treasury ACT 2600 Canberra, Australia
NCP website http://www.ausncp.gov.au/
Other NCPs involved

Complainants

NGO

Company Information

Company responsible BHP Billiton
Company address Lonsdale Street 180
Victoria 3000 Melbourne
Australia
Company website http://www.bhpbilliton.com
Company in violation Cerrejon Coal
Country of operations Colombia
Other companies involved

Timeline of developments

Some developments are only visible to logged in users.
Date Actor Action Description Document
12 June 2009 National Contact Point Australia statement NCP releases final statement on the case download pdf (373.5 KB)  
26 June 2007 Corporación Colectivo de Abogados file A group of lawyers representing the affected comunities in Colombia file a complaint with the Australian NCP.  
26 June 2007 Corporación Colectivo de Abogados press release CCdeA lawyer Rafael Bleechmore issues a press release regarding the filing of the complaint against BHP Billiton. download pdf (48.8 KB)  

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