Irish company buying Colombian coal to be investigated for lack of due diligence with regard to human rights | Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) Skip to content Skip to navigation
22 July 2022

The OECD accepted a complaint filed by civil society against the Irish state-owned company ESB for its failure of responsible business conduct in the purchase of coal from Cerrejón.


The National Contact Point (NCP) for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Ireland agreed to evaluate the complaint filed against an Irish state-owned company, The Electricity Supply Board (ESB), for its lack of due diligence on human rights. ESB is a buyer of coal from Carbones del Cerrejón, the operator of the largest open-pit coal mine in Latin America.

The complaint was filed in January 2021 by a coalition of national and international organizations, including CAJAR, CINEP, AIDA, GLAN, ABColombia, Ask, and Christian Aid. The complaint also had the support of several leaders of Wayuu and Afro-Campesino indigenous communities that have been historically affected by this extractive coal mining megaproject.

For years ESB, considered Ireland's largest energy company, has purchased coal from the Cerrejón mine, located in La Guajira, Colombia, for use in its Moneypoint power plant in County Clare. The complaint alleges non-compliance by the company, as the purchaser, with the OECD's standards of due diligence and responsible business conduct in environmental and human rights matters.

In addition, the complaint alleges that ESB has failed to take the necessary actions to influence Carbones de Cerrejón's own due diligence in identifying, mitigating, and preventing human rights abuses linked to the mine. This failure comes despite well-documented evidence of serious violations against Wayuu and Afro-Colombian indigenous communities, including environmental impacts and threats to human rights defenders.

Following an initial assessment of the complaint, the Irish government's NCP released an initial statement on Monday, July 18, stating that it found sufficient grounds for further examination of the issues raised.

From the perspective of the denouncing organizations, the purchase of Colombian coal by ESB has been made in spite of the company having been aware of ample evidence of serious human rights violations and environmental impacts in the territory of indigenous Wayuu and Afro-descendant communities. The company itself, on its official website, stated:

"ESB is well aware of Colombia's difficult history that has had serious impacts on its population for many years. We are also aware of the issues reported in the media regarding the Cerrejón mine, many of which are related to Colombia's past. We are committed to remaining attentive to all of these issues and will continue to work with Bettercoal to influence and drive improvements. We bring these issues to Bettercoal for assessment as a matter of course."

Although ESB had indicated that it stopped buying coal from Cerrejón in 2018 because of human rights violations, it recently announced that in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war it was resuming its purchase of this coal for the coming months. "Six years ago, Ireland stopped buying Colombian coal, citing human rights concerns, and turned to Russia for the fossil fuel. Now, the European nation has resumed purchases from Colombia."

On his recent visit to La Guajira in April of this year, Irish TD Gary Gannon criticized ESB for restarting coal imports from Cerrejón.

Gary Gannon, who traveled to Colombia in April as part of the parliamentary delegation, said he had seen with his own eyes the devastating environmental impact of the mine and the pain of the indigenous communities displaced from their land for its expansion. "There is a disturbing double standard in this return to Cerrejón," he said. "We rightly say no to Russian coal after the invasion of Ukraine, recognizing the impact our business decisions can have on human rights. But that standard must apply everywhere, including Colombia."

In the words of Wayuu leader Jakeline Romero Epiayu:

"European countries, with total hypocrisy, send us messages of decarbonization, of abandoning the use of fossil fuels; but suddenly they put Colombia and La Guajira back in their focus to buy this coal that they continue to need, this coal that we have tirelessly said is stained with blood, stained with the lives of Wayuu men, women, boys, and girls."

The complaint requested, among other recommendations, that ESB: end its commercial relationship with the purchase of Colombian coal, issue a public statement acknowledging the need for its cessation, request the mine's parent companies initiate progressive closure of the mine and remediate its impacts, compile and publish an effective human rights policy, and issue a formal apology to the affected communities.

Following the issuance of this initial assessment, the Irish NCP will formally ask the parties if they are willing to participate in mediation, with the objective of reaching a resolution to the issues raised in the complaint. The goodwill offer is voluntary for both parties. If a mediated solution is not possible, the Irish NCP will conduct a review of the complaint. The outcome will be reflected in a Final Statement which may include recommendations on the implementation of the OECD guidelines.

The Irish NCP also noted that it is still processing another complaint against CMC Coal Marketing Company, a Dublin-based company responsible for the marketing and sale of coal from the Cerrejón mine.

In the wake of the war between Russia and Ukraine and the current context of increasing demand for Cerrejón coal, this complaint sends an important message that countries and companies that buy this coal must continue meeting their obligations with respect to human rights and corporate due diligence duties.

José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective

Center for Research and Popular Education

Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA)

press contact:

Víctor Quintanilla (Mexico), AIDA, [email protected], +525570522107


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