Coal mining in colombia: criticism without consequences

The German government admits that human rights are being violated in Colombia’s coal mines. But it does not plan to impose any conditions on German companies.

Coal mining in Colombia: attacks on trade unionists. Picture: ap

Environmental destruction, displacement and murder: Human rights violations related to coal mining in Colombia are well documented. The United Nations criticizes the violations of the rights of indigenous people who are displaced for coal mining, non-governmental organizations report attacks on trade unionists by paramilitary groups financed by coal companies.

These events are closely followed in Germany, because Colombia is the second largest supplier of hard coal: every fifth ton fired in German power plants comes from the South American country. With the discontinuation of subsidies in Germany in 2018, the share is likely to rise even further. The German government is also aware of problems: Human rights defenders and environmental activists in Colombia "continue to be the target of intimidation attempts," writes Economics State Secretary Rainer Sontowski in a response to a Green Party question obtained by taz. "There have also been repeated acts of violence in the largest areas of Colombian open-pit coal mining, the departments of Guajira and Cesar, since 2011."

But the German government does not want to draw concrete consequences from these findings. The Greens’ demand that companies disclose the origin of their coal, for example, is rejected by the Ministry of Economics led by SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel: It is "not intended to impose onerous verification or reporting obligations on coal-importing and power-generating companies within the national framework," writes State Secretary Sontowski. Instead, he refers to a free trade agreement with Colombia that stipulates compliance with environmental and labor standards. And to the international "Bettercoal" initiative, which is intended to ensure better social and environmental standards in coal mining and which several German electricity companies have now joined.

This has met with criticism from Green energy expert Oliver Krischer. "Instead of creating clear rules for coal-importing companies and advocating for stronger controls at the international level, Black-Red remains inactive," he tells the taz.

In order to remedy abuses such as those in Colombia, "transparency and the disclosure of trade routes" are necessary. Otherwise, the mines from which the imported coal actually comes will remain a secret. Non-governmental organizations also consider voluntary initiatives such as "Bettercoal" to be insufficient.

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