Alleged victims of human rights abuses by the Columbian coal industry on Thursday filed an OECD complaint against several European energy companies, alleging their complicity in human rights abuses.

Victims of the coal industry in Columbia, submitted the complaint to the National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines in The Hague, Netherlands. The guidelines are recommendations addressed by governments to multinational enterprises operating in or from adhering countries. They provide principles and standards for responsible business conduct, and are the only multilaterally agreed code of responsible business conduct that governments have committed to promoting. However, they are also legally non-binding.

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Companies accused in the complaint include power companies RWE, Uniper, Engie and Vattenfall for their involvement with coal mining in Columbia. It also names terminal operator HES International, as well as the Amsterdam Port Authority and the Rotterdam Port Authority, through which coal has been shipped.

According to the complaints, since 2009 more than 100 million tonnes of coal from the Cesar region of Columbia has moved through Dutch ports for use in power plants in the Netherlands and other European countries.

The complainants are supported by Dutch business scrutiny charity Somo, and anti-conflict charity Pax. They argue that despite knowledge of abuses in the Columbian coal mining production chain, the energy companies failed to take sufficient action to address human rights violations directly associated with the coal they have used.

As a result, complainants argue that the companies have violated OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, meaning that the energy companies accused can be held accountable for harm caused by the production of coal in Columbia.

The complainants now seek financial compensation for harm done to their livelihoods, public acknowledgement from the companies of the harm they have done, and tangible improvements to the situations their displaced communities now find themselves in.

Conflict in Columbia could lead to accountability in the Netherlands

According to Pax, from 1996 to 2006, residents of the Cesar mining region have suffered greatly at the hands of Colombia’s paramilitary. It estimates that at least 3,100 people have been killed, and 55,000 farmers have been driven from their land and way of life. European power utilities source much of their coal from this region.

Imports of Columbian Cesar coal peaked in 2017, declined for several years, and have spiked again in 2022 and 2023 due the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since the war, Cesar coal imports to Europe have increased by 305%, the complaint says.

Research by PAX asserts that a correlation between the rise of paramilitary violence in the region and the arrival of extractive multinational coal companies exists.

The companies have not yet responded to the complaint.