The UK government accepted in January that issues raised in a complaint filed against UK mining firm Glencore in respect of its handling of two contamination incidents at its Badila oilfield in southern Chad “merit further examination”.
The complaint, filed by three human rights groups, alleges violations of OECD guidelines and details environmental and human rights harms as well as social engagement failures by the company.
The two incidents occurred in 2018: the first when an earth bank supporting a wastewater basin collapsed spilling 85 million litres of contaminated water onto neighbouring fields and into the Nya Pende River, which is the main source of water for the local population. The second occurred a few weeks later, when locals reported oil leaking from a pipe. Glencore disputes the latter incident.
Following the first incident, at least 50 local residents, including children, reported burns, skin lesions, sickness and diarrhoea after bathing in or using contaminated river water in the following weeks. Some required hospitalisation. Livestock and fish also perished, and agricultural land was contaminated.
Local people claim that attempts to engage with Glencore at the time of the incidents were repeatedly rebuffed, that they were either ignored or told the incidents were not their concern and that there was no risk.
The complaint filed on behalf of the local communities by UK-based corporate watchdog Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID), the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) in Chad and the Association of Young Chadians of the Petroleum Zone (AJTZP) accuses Glencore of breaching OECD guidelines by failing to conduct appropriate environmental and human rights due diligence, respect the human rights of local communities, provide remediation for the harm caused, disclose material information, ensure meaningful stakeholder engagement and contribute to the communities’ sustainable development.
The complaint was accepted in January by the UK National Contact Point (NCP) at the Department for International Trade which oversees the implementation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises for responsible business conduct of UK-based companies operating domestically or overseas. The Guidelines set standards across a range of issues such as human rights, labour rights and the environment.
In a statement reported by The Guardian Newspaper, Glencore said: “Glencore has participated in the UK NCP’s initial assessment of the complaint and acknowledges their decision that the issues relating to the 2018 wastewater incident merit further examination".
“We also note that UK NCP’s decision to further examine aspects of the complaint is not a finding against Glencore UK or a determination by the UK NCP that Glencore UK has acted inconsistently with the guidelines,” the statement continued.
“The UK NCP’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, the Executive Director of RAID. “No community, whether in Africa or elsewhere, should have to wait more than two years for a company to properly investigate whether its toxic spill caused injuries to children and others.”