Cerrejón in Colombia, an independently managed operation in which BHP owns a one-third share, is located in the department of La Guajira, which is one of the most arid regions of the country. La Guajira’s location in the extreme north of the South American continent has also historically kept it removed from the centres of political and economic development in the country.
These circumstances continue to directly impact the living conditions of much of the population in the department. Cerrejón, and the communities surrounding the operation, face many challenges in this remote and complex environmental and socio-economic context. The intense drought endured in the region in recent years depleted agrarian livelihoods through loss of crops and livestock. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 compounded existing humanitarian issues under the additional layer of a human health crisis.
Respect for human rights is a critical component in ensuring operations value workers, communities and the environment. Cerrejón is implementing the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, published for the first time in 2005 and reformulated in 2011 to align with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, formalises commitment to human rights, and is supported by its Social Management Policy. Cerrejón strives to contribute to measurably improving the living conditions of its neighbouring communities and supporting the environment by aligning with the the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Cerrejón also aims constantly to improve in identifying, preventing and lessening any potential or actual adverse impacts produced by the asset, and to compensate for these impacts when necessary.
Cerrejón’s due diligence process for human rights includes: participatory identification of social, environmental and human rights-related risks and potential impacts; definition and implementation of controls to manage potential impacts; integration of these controls into both BHP’s and Cerrejon’s risk management systems; and attention to complaints in its Complaints Office, which was designed under the UN Guiding Principles as part of a rights-based grievance mechanism
These principles are the foundation of Cerrejón’s approach to human rights and formed the basis of its approach during the COVID-19 quarantine.
During the COVID-19 crisis, and before any confirmed cases of COVID-19 at its operations or in La Guajira, Cerrejón voluntarily shut down for 42 days to develop and implement the necessary measures, protocols and training needed to manage health and hygiene, and social distancing to protect the workers and their communities. Only after these measures had been verified by community leaders, did Cerrejón begin a gradual return to operations with a locally based workforce. Cerrejón stopped all community interactions except for the delivery of humanitarian aid during the pandemic. To manage the risk of spreading COVID-19 to vulnerable indigenous communities, Cerrejón has continued aid delivery in consultation with the communities and only after a strict permit-to-work process establishes that all controls are in place.
During the shutdown and gradual restart, Cerrejón implemented voluntary social investment to help local Indigenous communities as they confronted the impacts of the national quarantine. Cerrejón invested close to USD 3.0 million to strengthen the health system in La Guajira, with the donation of more than 100,000 medical supplies items for local hospitals, including delivery of three ventilators and donation of the department’s first laboratory to process PCR molecular tests, as well as the delivery ofmore than 50,000 food and hygiene baskets to communities. Cerrejón increased its existing water distribution program and, by the end of August, had delivered more than 20 million litres of water to the most vulnerable communities using tank trucks transported by train.
Having operated for more than 30 years, Cerrejón is the largest private employer in the area, with approximately 11,000 workers, of whom more than 60 per cent are originally from La Guajira. Cerrejón continues to work closely with government, communities, civil society and other stakeholders to collectively respond to the health and economic crisis and contribute to measures to improve the situation for communities in La Guajira. As a joint shareholder, BHP seeks to influence and engage on strategic issues, including risk management, human rights and compliance, through the corresponding governance structures.