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Colombian unionists in London to challenge mining multinationals

4 May, 2015Colombian trade union leaders travelled to London to tell the story of human rights violations against mineworkers, indigenous people, communities, and the environmental degradation caused by mining multinationals BHP Billiton, Glencore and Anglo American. 

Last month's vist by Jairo Quiroz, president of IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, Sintracarbon, and the union's education secretary, Igor Diaz, is a joint effort by IndustriALL and the London Mining Network (LMN) which campaign together on issues of common interest in the mining industry.

LMN is an alliance of human rights, development, environmental and solidarity groups. It works in support of communities around the world who are badly affected by mining, particularly by mining companies based in, or financed from, London.

The speaking mission by the two leaders entailed meeting and addressing influential institutions such as the Ethical Investment Advisory Committee of the Church of England, the Scottish Trade Union Congress, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. They also participated in IndustriALL Global Union’s meeting on Better-coal, a standard-setting and auditing initiative by coal utilities in Europe that buy coal from Colombia. Both leaders met with NGOs including the Colombia Solidarity Campaign, Global Justice Now, Justice for Colombia, and War on Want.

The highlight of the mission was attending the Anglo American AGM on 24 April and speaking directly to the shareholders. Sintracarbon President, Jairo Quiroz, took the floor to make a very moving and persuasive argument to stop the river diversion at the Cerrejón mine in Colombia. The mine is jointly owned by Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Glencore.

 Quiroz made a plea not just for trade union interests but also for the sake of the environment and the livelihoods potentially threatened by the diversion. He called for respect of indigenous peoples rights and urged Anglo American to make safer workplaces for miners. He also criticised the company for using subcontractors and called for the elimination of sub-contracting at Cerrejon.

While Jairo Quiroz returned to Colombia, Diaz, accompanied by IndustriALL’s Director for Mining and DGOJP, Glen Mpufane, proceeded to Hanover, Germany as a guest of IndustriALL affiliate union IG BCE.

Following the German leg of his European mission, Diaz is now in Geneva for a series of Glencore related activities. His schedule includes addressing Swiss parliamentarians on Glencore abuses in Colombia. In addition, he will denounce Glencore activities to the ACTRAV representative from the ILO and will address Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council. He will also be participating in a public event about Glencore’s hidden face in Colombia in Geneva on 4 May.

Igor Diaz said, “Having the opportunity, through the work and support of IndustriALL Global Union, to reach public areas where we can highlight workers issues is very important for our struggle, especially if it helps to improve working and social conditions in Colombia.”