Time to Act – February: Standing with human rights defenders

Our Justice and Peace team provide three campaigns this month that defend human rights and support the environment.

CAFOD reports this month that in Colombia, Latin America, more than 20 communities have been forcibly displaced or dispossessed as a result of the huge open-pit Cerrejón coal mine. The Wayúu indigenous women, who have a deep connection to their land and water, have been deeply impacted, and have reported that more than 17 streams have been redirected or polluted.

The mine was jointly owned by UK-based company BHP and London-listed Anglo American and Glencore until 2021, with Glencore recently taking full ownership. These companies have profited from the mine, but questions have been raised as to whether they have taken sufficient action to deal with issues of concern. Local communities have complained that the company has failed to fully comply with more than 10 Colombia court rulings, or to heed calls from several prominent UN human rights experts for the mine’s operations to be suspended. Local people have not been compensated for their losses.

Thirteen years ago, in 2009, two members of the Wayúu community stayed at the Columban house in London while visiting to lobby mining giant BHP at its AGM to respect the human rights of local people in mining areas around the world. Also, to care for water, air and biodiversity which are often polluted by large scale mining, thus destroying livelihoods. Their communities around the Cerrejón mine reported being forcibly displaced or dispossessed so that coal could be mined. Their forests and green cover was ripped up to reveal the coal underneath the surface. The companies who owned the mine at that time – including BHP, a British company – were profiting from the mine but not adequately fulfilling their responsibility for preventing and remedying human and environmental abuses.

It is shameful that these Wayúu communities still have no peace today. They are still being made homeless to make way for expansion of the world’s biggest opencast coal mine, Cerrejón. Farming families in villages around the mine have been deprived of their livelihoods as the mine expands and they accuse Cerrejón of failing to negotiate in good faith or offer sufficient assistance or compensation. The Wayuu indigenous people also fear the militarisation of the area around the vast mine.

While the UK has made some progress in introducing legislation, such as the Modern Slavery Act which was passed in 2015 to ensure more transparency in supply chains, it’s clear that just requiring companies to be transparent isn’t enough to prevent abuse. The Modern Slavery Act also doesn’t cover many of the impacts that business activities have on the communities CAFOD works with, such as mass pollution and attacks on human rights defenders.

Pope Francis calls on us to strengthen national and international legislation to regulate the activities of companies and provide justice for the people they affect. More than 100 bishops worldwide have called for an end to corporate abuse.

CAFOD and others are urging the UK government to introduce a new Business, Human Rights and Environment Act to hold business to account when it fails to prevent human rights abuses and environmental harm.

Huge corporations around the world who are benefiting from the exploitation of people and local environments, often to provide cheap products to affluent countries. This isn’t right. But we can all do something about this: call for new legislation now! And be aware that communities displaced from their lands add to the world’s rising tally of displaced people and asylum seekers. They face endless suffering, trying to find a new home.

Open our eyes, Lord

God of all, you made the earth and saw that it was good, but like robbers we have stripped it of its treasure.
Open our eyes, Lord.

Now Earth cries out and your people hunger and thirst.
Open our eyes, Lord.

Open our eyes to see the pain of your creation and move us with compassion for your world.
Open our eyes, Lord.

Lead us to act as neighbours, who do not pass by on the other side.
Open our eyes, Lord.

So that together we may care for all that you have made and with all creation sing your praise.
Open our eyes, Lord.



Take action

Download 'Time to Act: February' - three campaign actions for this month.

Download 'Time to Act: February'