Sharper focus on human rights needed

REPORT | 30 November 2015
Cauca River where the hydroelectric plant is built. Photo: Magnus Aronson

Swedwatch’s 2014 report Drowned Rights, Floating Responsibilities is now available in Spanish. It reveals serious human rights risks associated with the construction a power plant in Colombia. Companies still need to do more to assess and manage the risks.

Swedwatch’s report ‘Derechos Ahogados, Responsabilidades Diluidas’ (Drowned Rights, Floating Responsibilities) is now available in Spanish. The report, originally written in 2014, reveals a number of serious human rights risks associated with the construction of the Hidroituango hydroelectric power plant in Colombia. Swedish companies Atlas Copco and Scania are involved in supplying equipment and staff to the project.

The Spanish version of the Swedwatch report is being published with an update (Anexo 1 – Información actualizada) showing that the Swedish companies have taken significant steps to increase their awareness of the risks in Colombia and have developed new tools for evaluating customers. However, the Hidroituango project continues to present major challenges.

Colombia’s biggest hydroelectric power plant, Hidroituango, is currently being constructed in a region that is badly affected by internal armed conflict. The Hidroituango project has had an effect on security as guerrillas have singled out the construction site as a military target and it has also meant an increased presence of police, armed forces and private security guards. People from the affected communities interviewed by Swedwatch has reported assaults by both state and private security staff protecting the site, as well as by illegal armed groups in the area. Some members of the local population have stated that they have lost their basic means of subsistence because of the hydroelectric power plant and have not received compensation. In addition, clear threats are being made against those human rights activists who have opposed the project.

The Swedish companies Atlas Copco and Scania are involved in supplying equipment and staff to the CCC Ituango consortium, which has been commissioned to construct the power plant by the Colombian company EPM. The advance assessments by the Swedish companies of the human rights risks associated with the Hidroituango project were very limited. Responsibility for providing compensation for negative impact on human rights lies with the Colombian company EPM. As suppliers, the Swedish companies have limited influence and they have no direct business relationship with EPM. However, under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies such as Scania and Atlas Copco also have a responsibility to undertake human rights due diligence in relation to their customers. The same framework dictates that the Swedish Government should provide support to Swedish companies in order to minimise human rights risks. As Colombia’s importance as a market for Swedish companies increases, the Swedish Embassy in Colombia has a vital role to play in alerting companies to the risks of human rights violations.

The report has been produced with the assistance of the Church of Sweden, Diakonia and Solidarity Sweden-Latin America.