The UK government has decided to accept a complaint by human rights groups against mining and commodities giant Glencore over toxic spill at its oil site in Chad, where dozens of villagers said the contaminated water made them suffer severe burns, skin lesions and sickness.
Officials at the Department for International Trade, which monitors whether UK-based companies implement OECD guidelines for responsible business, decided the issues raised “merit[ed]further examination”.
This case marks the first time that Glencore has faced an OECD complaint in the UK.
The complaint, brought by three human rights groups on behalf of affected communities, alleges environmental abuses and social engagement failures by the UK-based company in relation to two spillages, the wastewater spill and an alleged oil spill, both in 2018.
In September 2018, a wastewater basin holding a crude oil by-product collapsed at Glencore’s operations in Badila, southern Chad. Some 85million litres of wastewater flooded fields and the local river, which local people use for drinking, bathing and washing.
At least 50 people reported burns, skin lesions, sickness and diarrhoea after bathing in or using the contaminated river water in the weeks after the leak.
Many of those harmed were children, some of whom were admitted to hospital. One 13-year-old boy was unable to move his body for a year after swimming in the river, which doctors attributed to the “crude oil burns”.
Livestock drinking from the river also died, according to the complaint.
Residents claim the wastewater basin had been leaking for weeks before it collapsed, but Glencore failed to properly address the problem or to warn local residents about the impending danger. They also say Glencore has still not acknowledged the harm caused or provided remedy.
A few weeks after the wastewater incident, residents also reported an oil pipe leak, which is contested by the company.
“The UK’s decision to accept the complaint provides an opportunity for those harmed at Glencore’s operations to finally be heard and to find remedy for the harms they suffered,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, executive director of the human rights group Rights and Accountability in Development (Raid), which was among the groups that filed the complaint.
“For more than a year we have tried, along with organisations in Chad, to get Glencore UK to appropriately investigate these claims and to compensate those affected. And although they’ve made promises, none of them have resulted in any remedy, nor has there been an independent investigation into what happened,” Van Woudenberg said.
“No community, whether they are in a remote area of Chad or elsewhere, should have to wait more than two and a half years for a company to investigate whether its toxic spill caused injury, especially when it involves so many children,” Van Woudenberg added.
The National Contact Point (NCP), the UK body which oversees the implementation of OECD guidelines for multinational companies, will now mediate between the parties.
If that fails, the NCP will examine whether the violations highlighted by the human rights groups occurred and will publish its findings.
In a statement, Glencore said it “acknowledges the decision” by the NCP and said it had been transparent about the incident. (Source: The Guardian)