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Concern in the Netherlands about conditions in Colombian coal mines

10 October, 2013More than half of the coal used in the Netherlands is imported from Colombia. Concerns have emerged about the situation in the Colombian coal industry, where activists and peasants are threatened and murdered, working conditions are precarious and trade union rights are violated.

In September this year, the Dutch magazine De GroeneAmsterdammer and the Dutch newspaper Trouw published articles on the coal industry in Columbia and asked the question: “Is this coal stained with blood?”

They argued that the very bad working conditions in Columbia were comparable with those in the textile industry in Bangladesh and that the Netherlands ought to take some responsibility for this.

An opinion column in Trouw recalled that, three years ago, Dutch energy companies and social organisations formally began a Dialogue on Coal. The articles note that as Columbia exports a quarter of its coal to the Netherlands, the situation must improve and the country should try and influence the way that companies operate in Colombia.

However, the dialogue failed due to the attitude of the energy companies, which do not seem to understand that transparency in the entire supply chain is now a requirement for socially acceptable and sustainable employment.

The articles describe cases of workers employed by the multinational Drummond, which is a major supplier to the Netherlands. Data provided by Dutch energy companies showed that more than 12 per cent of coal imported in 2011 was from the Drummond mine. However, their most recent report did not provide full information about the exact origin of the coal exported to the Netherlands.

The articles describe the killing and persecution of workers and trade unionists, including the case of a trade union leader who had to go into exile to escape being killed.

The government, in the form of the Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, Lilianen Ploumen, has said it will pay close attention to the situation at the Colombian mines from which Dutch companies export coal to the Netherlands.

The articles insist on the need for transparency in the supply chain. This issue is of great importance for IndustriALL. Union seminars on the mining industry have discussed the importance of strengthening unions and building a regional and world union network. Glen Mpufane, Director of Mining at IndustriALL, has said that the challenges are the same in all regions and that it is important to unite the workers within supply chains. Union membership has declined as the power of the companies has increased.

For IndustriALL, a strong and centralised trade union structure can stand up to the companies and, in this specific case, can fight the abuses and ill-treatment of workers and end the supply of coal stained with blood.