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Water contamination near copper mine: UN complaint against Swiss firm Glencore, Peru and Switzerland

Water contamination and health problems caused by copper mining – these are the claims made against Swiss mining firm Glencore by residents of the area around the Tintaya Antapaccay mine in Peru. The company denies any responsibility for the problem. When the local population demonstrated against the pollution in 2012, Peruvian police responded by violently suppressing the protest. The UN Special Rapporteur is now asked to examine whether Peru, Switzerland and Glencore are in breach of their human rights obligations. This is the call made in a legal brief by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) along with Multiwatch, Derechos Humanos sin Fronteras, and CooperAcción in cooperation with affected local residents.

Scientific studies have found high levels of heavy metals in the drinking water and rivers around the copper mine. The affected communities have repeatedly called on the Peruvian state and Glencore to take action against the pollution and the related health risks. “Multinational corporations, particularly those involved in mining, are obliged to undertake extensive risk management,” says Miriam Saage-Maaß, head of the Business and Human Rights Program at ECCHR. “Glencore must take preventative measures to ensure that its global business operations do not harm the environment.” This is set out in the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights.

Peru and Switzerland are obliged to prevent water pollution by corporations. Yet Peru has failed to investigate the causes of the pollution or take any measures to remedy the heavy metal contamination. Switzerland is also obliged to act. “Switzerland, where Glencore’s headquarters are based, must investigate the potential involvement of the company in the pollution of the environment in Peru,” says Saage-Maaß.