COLOMBIA NEWS – Glencore, the largest mining company listed on the JSE and headed by South African Ivan Glasenberg, has been accused in a new 245-page report of mining and exporting “blood coal” from Colombia.
The report, “The Dark Side of Coal”, published by Dutch nongovernmental organization PAX in Germany last week, says that Glencore’s Colombian arm, Prodeco, secretly supported the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (known by the Spanish acronym AUC) during that country’s bloody civil war.
The AUC was listed by the US State Department as a terrorist organization in 2005 and demobilized in 2006 after peace negotiations with the Colombian government. Colombia has not resolved its problems yet and the government is still negotiating with left-wing FARC guerrillas in Cuba.
Although the accusations against Glencore date back more than a decade, the report is likely to heighten scrutiny of the way it operates in some of its coal markets.
It has faced claims of tax dodging in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo and of selling materials to Iran for its nuclear program.
In South Africa, communities who live on its coal mines in Belfast, Mpumalanga, accused Glencore of trampling their rights to blast for new mines in March. Glencore, which is South Africa’s largest exporter of coal, has denied all these claims
In the Colombian case, Glencore is said to have supported the AUC to counter kidnappings and attacks on infrastructure conducted by left-wing guerrilla groups FARC and the ELN.
The new Colombian accusations are based largely on the testimony of José del Carmen Gelvez Alvarracín, known as “El Canoso”, who was first hired as an intelligence agent by the Colombian army and then became a defense contractor for Glencore’s security department in 1996, before joining the AUC in 2003.
Gelvez described meetings that took place since 1996 between the AUC and Glencore’s security department head, Manuel Gutiérrez.
He testified that he and Glencore’s managers, Manuel Gutiérrez and Luis Ochoa, “drove in a pick-up truck to a farm named La Ucrania …
“On entering, we saw approximately 30 people dressed in camouflage, who introduced us to the commander who went by the alias Lucho,” says the PAX report.
“Manuel Gutiérrez, as head of the security department, spoke on behalf of the company, Prodeco, about providing this group of the AUC with whatever support it might need.
“It was clear that there was a direct link between the company and the AUC.”
Colombia’s 50-year civil war between the state and left-wing guerrillas groups reached a climax between 1994 and 2006 with the introduction of the AUC, which was created, financed and supported by drug cartels, members of the Colombian elite, the army, local businesses and multinational companies.
The AUC was created to counter the ever-increasing size and power of FARC and the ELN, but it was also used to consolidate drug trafficking routes, murder labour union leaders and displace farmers to allow for illegal land grabs from local elites and foreign companies. Glencore-Prodeco has denied owning land that belonged to farmers displaced by the AUC. It has also denied ever having any kind of link with the right-wing forces.
Glencore has criticized the report for being one-sided and uncritical in terms of evaluating the testimonies of former paramilitaries.
The company said it had contacted the human rights organizations involved in March, when the report was being written, but PAX did not include its objections in the final draft.
Last month, Glencore’s head of sustainability, Dr Michael Fahrbach, sent a letter to PAX saying: “The report is distorted and unbalanced, and blindly follows accusations made by a condemned criminal, which came up years ago, in a judicial hearing to which we had no access and didn’t have the right to be heard.”
This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times