I propose to take Questions Nos. 39 and 40 together.
The associated issues of environmental degradation and human rights abuses are widespread problems across Latin America. Our new Embassy in Bogotá has been engaging on these issues in Colombia, including in La Guajira and has maintained regular contact with all relevant stakeholders in order to gain a greater understanding of the circumstances and issues that have been raised previously with regard to the Cerrejón mine.
I remain concerned at reports of the activities of the mine having a detrimental impact on the environment and on local communities. Taking into account security and other considerations, a visit by the Embassy to the Department of La Guajira, where the Cerrejón mine is located, was possible in late September 2019. The visit took place on 23 and 24 September and was led by Ireland's Ambassador to Colombia, Ms Alison Milton.
The programme included a tour of the mine itself, which was also attended by NGOs and local-community groups, as well as meetings with all stakeholders involved with the Cerrejón mine, including Cerrejón management, local communities, local government, religious leaders, academics and NGOs, including the local human rights group Fuerzas Mujeres Wayuu.
The La Guajira region has a near-majority indigenous population (over 40% compared to 3.4% nationally), the largest of which is the Wayuu people, who number around 270,000 and for whom the exploitation of La Guajira’s natural resources is a major grievance as they maintain a deep spiritual and ancestral connection to the land. It is also one of Colombia’s poorest regions, where the needs of local communities are acute.
The mine generates almost half of the region’s income and is one of its largest employers providing over 13,000 jobs. While the mine owners attest to their compliance with local and international standards, challenges exist in relation to local governance, leading to a lack of trust between the local authorities, local communities and the mine.
The Embassy has reported on the range and complexity of issues, not least evolving public opinion in relation to the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels, and concluded that efforts should be made to improve communication between the local communities and the mine, and to include the local community in plans for closure of the mine by 2033.
The Embassy will hold meetings with national Government, with national and international NGO partners, and with Cerrejón management in order to share feedback on the visit. Some of these meetings have already taken place.
As I have indicated previously, I wrote to the ESB in September requesting further information regarding the ESB's sourcing of coal from Cerrejón. I received a response in October in which the ESB outlined a recent assessment of the mine carried out by Bettercoal.
Bettercoal is an organisation established by major coal buyers to ensure coal is being sourced via responsible supply chains, which the ESB joined in 2014. This assessment indicates that the Cerrejón mine's operating principles are essentially in line with the Bettercoal best practice code. Bettercoal has made a number of recommendations to Cerrejón for improvement and increased compliance, on which the mine has been actively engaging.
Addressing the risks of adverse impacts of business activities on human rights is a priority of this Government. Ireland is one of only 22 countries worldwide that has adopted a national action plan on Business and Human Rights to give effect to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Since its launch at the end of 2017, my Department has implemented a number of key commitments including the establishment of the Business and Human Rights Implementation Group, to oversee progress on delivery of the Plan and the completion of an independent baseline assessment of the current legislative and regulatory framework for business and human rights in Ireland. Both the National Plan and the baseline assessment are available on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website. Work is now proceeding on the formation of three sub-groups, each tasked with prioritising and delivering key actions under the three pillars of the UN Guiding Principles, namely, the State duty to protect, corporate responsibility to respect and access to remedy.
My Department will continue to monitor developments on this matter closely and to engage with all relevant stakeholders.