2 August, 2018Colombia is another of the resource-rich, conflict-ridden countries favoured by Glencore. The company is well known in the country for its violations of the environment and workers rights, including health and safety and the freedom of association.
As early as 2006, there were allegations of corruption and severe human rights violations with the local union, IndustriALL Global Union affiliate Sintracarbón, accusing the company of forced expropriations and evacuations of entire villages to enable mine expansion, in complicity with Colombian authorities.
Glencore has several interests in Colombia, including wholly owned subsidiary Prodeco, which has two adjacent mines (La Jagua and Calenturitas), a coal export terminal (Puerto Nuevo) and a stake in the railway that transports coal to the terminal. Prodeco employs about 6,000 people.
Prodeco operates the two mines, railway and port terminal through five subsidiaries, despite demands from the Colombian authorities to integrate the operations into a single business entity. All businesses are run from the same floor of the same building in Barranquilla, and share the same top management.
According to Sintracarbón, workers from the La Jagua and Calenturitas mines are subject to different terms and conditions, and are denied the opportunity to negotiate together as a union with a common employer. Dividing the ownership structure makes it much more difficult for the union to identify a responsible negotiating partner and resolve issues.
Sintracarbón reports that Prodeco has blatantly violated the right to freedom of association at its Calenturitas mine by discriminating against union leaders and members, by interfering with the right of workers to freely choose their union affiliation, and by undermining the collective bargaining process.
Management also discriminates against union leaders by changing their shifts or positions, by applying drastic disciplinary measures – including dismissals or multiple suspensions for the same offence – or by sending them on paid leave as a means of marginalizing them.
They treat trade unionists as second class, they persecute us and they keep us from exercising our rights,
explained union leader Blanco.
Glencore has persuaded union members to resign from the union through a combination of threats and incentives. By 2014 there were 67 labour grievances against Glencore’s Colombian subsidiary Prodeco, with 46 under investigation as of 2017. Prodeco has had to pay almost 500,000 USD in labour-related fines.
Health and safety
At the Calenturitas mine, productivity is prioritized over health and safety. Inefficient policies on industrial safety and occupational health and the high-risk activity that mining represents, lead to the occurrence of multiple occupational diseases, in addition to illegal 12 hour work days, roads in poor condition, high vibrations of equipment and high levels of pollution, which harm the health of workers. In August 2017, Sintracarbón reported that there were 13 work accidents in less than one month. In January 2018, a worker was killed.
Glencore violated many environmental regulations. Last January, 50,000 gallons of diesel were dumped into the ground of Puerto Nuevo due to the drilling of one of the storage tanks, ineffective maintenance and lack of control. Glencore tried to hide the fact from the environmental authorities,
said Sintracarbón Cienaga president, Claudia Blanco.
In 2010, after finding that levels of atmospheric contamination from mining exceeded legal limits, risking the health and lives of the people living close to the mines, the Colombian environment ministry ordered Prodeco and other companies to relocate the populations of Boqueron, Plan Boninto and El Hatillo.
The companies waited for two years before beginning the process, and none have been concluded. There have been violations of the right of the communities to participate and access information.
Staff is recruited through the Manpower agency. Work stability and the right to decent work are undermined, and salaries are affected because conventional benefits do not apply. Freedom of association is jeopardized, as these workers cannot be unionized. If workers join a union, their short-term contract is not renewed.