July 21, 2017

Carta abierta de Cerrejón a Global Witness, sobre el informe de Defensores de la Tierra 2016

We have read carefully the 2016 Defenders of the Earth report, published by Global Witness. The loss of any human life is cause for sorrow, and this is particularly the case where people are killed as they are trying to defend their land and their traditions. We recognize that this is a major issue that should be addressed by Governments, companies, communities and civil society organizations in order to prevent these horrendous violations from occurring. However, we have enormous concerns over the accusations included in the report towards our company, Cerrejón.

As you state in the Global Witness website, you are committed to carrying out rigorous investigations, using multiple techniques to gather evidence. Although you make reference to the fact Cerrejón has publicly condemned the accusations against Ms Jakeline Romero, we were never contacted or requested to provide information regarding our impact management model, our human rights principles and processes or our specific actions whenever these cases have risen.

The widely disseminated statements in the text and video published by your organization against our company are not supported by any objective and sound evidence: this goes against the basic principles of ethical journalism of checking sources, producing fair and balanced reporting, and the use of objective information to inform your audiences. We are really disappointed that a credible organization as your own did not follow these values, and decided to publish a report that only presented one side of the story.

We have never ignored the threats received by local leaders: on the contrary, we have regularly and insistently called on Government authorities to take the immediate actions required to guarantee their life and dignity and to bring to justice those responsible. We categorically reject the baseless accusations or the insinuation that link us to those situations. We acknowledge that we operate in a challenging area in Colombia where State presence is weak, where security conditions have been difficult due the long armed conflict, where there are high poverty levels and where climate conditions are severe.

Cerrejón has been respectful of the Law and has been in a journey implementing leading international social and human rights standards in particular the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, IFC performance guidances and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which reinforce our commitment to preventing, and mitigating our impacts, as well as compensating them whenever it’s required. We have been neighbours of the Wayuu indigenous group for over 30 years and our purpose is to maintain significant engagement, being transparent and respectful of their decisions, culture and traditions.

In addition to this, we make continuous efforts to contribute to enhancing community’s living conditions through our programs on water basin protection, access to water, capacity strengthening and developing high impact projects that contribute to developing economic and social opportunities for the region. In regards to prior consultation we have been carrying out transparent and participative consultation processes, once legislation and standards were developed, taking into account the different opinions, times, and decisions of the communities, and provided compensation as agreed with local communities whenever was required. Of course there are challenges, but we seek to resolve them through dialogue and in good faith. Despite the differences we have with some stakeholders, we have never violated or provided support to the violation of human rights, and we have clear policies to avoid supporting or engaging with any illegal armed groups. I would like to turn to the accusation of causing environmental damage, including the alleged pollution of water resources and contribution to drought in the Department of La Guajira.

Cerrejón has an Environmental Management Plan that seeks to prevent, mitigate and compensate the possible impacts of our operation, in particular the efforts to monitor and care for natural resources and strive for an efficient use of water, development of actions to protect and preserve the ecosystem, protection of air quality and responsible use of water. In addition, we have invested significant resources to understand water supply sources, the preservation of the Ranchería river basin and other water bodies, and have contributed consistently to measures designed to bring sustainable water supply solutions for communities.

We have on many occasions invited Ms Jakeline Romero to engage with us in constructive dialogue to understand her concerns, but without success. After your report was issued, we delivered a letter to her inviting her once again to engage with us in a constructive and respectful dialogue. We believe that overcoming lack of trust requires good faith and willingness from all parties.

This report, although it has a laudable purpose, belittles and denies the committed and responsible work of over 12,000 people, most of them from la Guajira, and does not take into account the positive impacts brought by the company to a region where other sources of decent jobs are scarce. We are, as mentioned earlier, very disappointed at the way you portray a company, almost 100% (2 out of 12,000) of the staff members are Colombian citizens, which are convinced that peaceful coexistence is the only way to ensuring everybody’s rights. We respectfully but firmly request that you provide the objective and sound evidence to support the irresponsible accusations made.

I would be most interested in discussing these issues with you in detail contributing to develop a better understanding of the issues in La Guajira and look forward to receiving the documents which you believe support your claims. We will be looking forward to defining a date for this meeting.