Human Rights & Environmenal HARMs at CerRejón Mine


Photo: Open cast coal mining in section of Cerrejon Mine 


The Cerrejón mine in Colombia, one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, is linked to the forced displacement of indigenous Wayúu and Afro-Colombian communities and widespread, persistent, and extreme pollution of air and water. High concentrations of harmful metals, which can cause diseases such as cancer, have been found by Colombia’s Constitutional Court to exist in the blood of those living near to the mine. Studies have shown that air pollution is driving elevated levels of cellular damage, in turn raising the risk of cancer, DNA damage, and chromosomal instability for those living in the region.

In 2020, Cerrejón’s operations were denounced by several prominent UN human rights experts. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment said that the case was ‘one of the most disturbing situations’ he had encountered in his time in the post.

Cerrejón is co-owned by three mining giants: Anglo America, BHP, and Glencore. These companies are based in the UK, Australia, and Switzerland. Cerrejón also has links to Ireland, which were set out in a detailed report by Christian Aid in February 2020. Irish state-owned energy company ESB has bought millions of tonnes of coal from Cerrejón over the past two decades, and this relationship was recently criticised by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The Cerrejón mine

Communities living in La Guajira in Colombia face forced displacement and environmental destruction because of the operation of the Cerrejón mine. The mine is owned by Anglo America, BHP, and Glencore. Irish energy company ESB, like other energy providers, has bought millions of tonnes of coal from Cerrejón.

The OECD Guidelines

All OECD countries must apply and implement their Multi-National Enterprise, which are certain minimum standards of business conduct. They include respect for human rights and the environment. National Contact Points (NCPs) oversee companies’ compliance.


On 19 January 2021 GLAN filed simultaneous complaints to the NCPs in UK, Switzerland and Australia where Cerrejón’s parent companies are based. We also filed two complaints to the Irish NCP about ESB’s relationship with Cerrejón and the sales wing of Cerrjon known as CMC which is operates from Dublin. We argue that the mine must progressively closed down and its impacts remedied.


Twitter Summary (coming soon)




Multiple National Contact Points (NCPs) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will begin the process of investigating three international mining giants (BHP, Anglo American and Glencore) and Ireland’s state-owned energy provider, the ESB, over serious human rights abuses and devastating environmental pollution at the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia. Parallel complaints were filed (19 Jan 2021) simultaneously in Australia, Ireland, Switzerland and the UK by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) with the support of international development agency Christian Aid Ireland as well as Colombian and international human rights and environmental NGOs - CINEP, CAJAR, AIDA, ABColombia and ASK.



Legal Case


All OECD member countries must implement the MNE Guidelines. The Guidelines set certain minimum standards for multinational enterprises. These include respecting internationally recognised human rights, avoiding adverse environmental impacts, and disclosing certain information about business conduct. Companies’ compliance with the Guidelines is subject to government-backed oversight by National Contact Points (NCPs) in every OECD country.

In January 2021, GLAN submitted complaints to the Australian, Swiss, and UK NCPs about Anglo America, BHP, and Glencore. By causing adverse human rights and environmental impacts, these parent companies have failed to meet the minimum standards set by the Guidelines.

The complaints outline how the Cerrejón mine, one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, is linked to the forced displacement of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and the widespread, persistent and extreme pollution of the air and water in the vicinity of the mine. High concentrations of harmful metals, which can cause diseases such as cancer, were found by Colombia’s Constitutional Court to exist in the blood of those living nearby.

The complaints point to Cerrejón’s failure to comply with multiple Colombian court judgments against it. In September, several prominent UN human rights experts called for some of the mine’s operations to be suspended following a request to intervene by Wayuu indigenous people. We allege that the parent companies of the Cerrejón mine, as its joint owners, are responsible under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises for the harms caused by its operations. Water shortages in La Guajira, which have been caused by Cerrejón’s coal mining, are now being exacerbated by global climate change which is in part caused by coal combustion. Cerrejón’s activities thus combine to heighten the severity of the adverse impacts felt in La Guajira.

GLAN also submitted complaints to the Irish NCP about CMC and ESB. CMC is the company that sells and markets all of Cerrejón’s coal. It has contributed to the harms caused by Cerrejón. ESB is an Irish state-owned energy company which has bought millions of tonnes of coal from Cerrejón. It is directly linked to the mine through their business relationship and has failed to mitigate abuses in its supply chain.  

GLAN instructed leading barrister Monica Feria-Tinta in this case.





AIDA (the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense)

ask! (Arbeitsgruppe Schweiz Kolumbien)

CAJAR (Colectivo de Abogados ‘José Alvear Restrepo’)

CINEP (Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular)

Christian Aid

Next steps

In order to comply with the Guidelines, GLAN submits that the three mining giants must progressively close down the mine, restore the environment in the surrounding area to the fullest extent possible, and provide financial compensation to the affected communities. CMC must stop selling Cerrejón coal. ESB must terminate its relationship with Cerrejón permanently.

The four NCPs will now begin the process of assessing the complaints.


If you live in Ireland, you can use this template to email your TD and draw their attention to Ireland’s relationship with Cerrejón. You can find your TD’s name and email address here.

If you’re an ESB customer (including Electric Ireland), you can use this template to email ESB and ask them to take the steps set out in our complaint. Their email address is esbnetworks@esb.ie.  Thank you for your support!

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