Mining in the Andes: Complaint and lawsuit filed against Swiss firm Glencore, Switzerland and Peru

Peru – Mining – Glencore

Mining projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America often give rise to environmental problems as well as forced displacement and social conflict. In many cases the rights of local populations are ignored in corporations’ pursuit of profit. This was confirmed by a number of case studies analyzed by ECCHR together with its partner organizations from Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Bolivia, Germany and Switzerland.

The Tintaya Antapaccay copper mine in Peru is one example of this phenomenon. The mine is run by a local subsidiary of the Swiss-based Glencore plc, the world’s biggest mining and commodities trading corporation. The communities living near the mine have for a long time raised concerns about heavy metals polluting the water and associated health problems. Glencore rejects any responsibility for the harm caused.


In May 2015 ECCHR – together with affected persons and the organizations Multiwatch from Switzerland and Derechos Humanos sin Fronteras and CooperAcción from Peru – submitted a complaint to the UN special rapporteur for the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation and the UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations.

The alliance is calling on UN experts to examine whether Peru, Switzerland and/or Glencore are violating their obligations under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. A group of local farmers affected by the pollution have now turned to the courts in Peru. The claimants are calling on the Peruvian authorities to protect their health and environment.


Peru and Switzerland are obliged to prevent corporations from engaging in harmful activities, such as water pollution, in or from their territory. Glencore has a duty to ensure that its business activities do not violate human rights including the rights to water and health. Switzerland reacted swiftly to the complaint made to the UN. In June 2015, the Swiss government declared it was prepared to support an international study exploring Glencore's potential responsibility for the pollution, on the condition that Peruvian authorities did the same.

Glencore continues to deny any responsibility for the environmental and health problems around its mine in Peru. As far as ECCHR and its partners can establish, the Peruvian government has to date not responded to the Swiss offer to support a study.


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UN Special Rapporteur

UN Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN with a mandate to work on a voluntary basis on a specific topic (e.g. torture, freedom of expression, or the right to water) or on a geographical region (e.g. Iraq, Syria, Myanmar).

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Corporate responsibility

In Pakistan, workers died in a fire at a textile factory because fire safety measures had been neglected. In Peru, people living near a copper mine became ill after pollution leaked into the groundwater. In Bahrain, critics of the regime were arrested and tortured after police used commercial surveillance software to tap their phones and computers. In these three examples, responsibility for human rights violations can be traced back to foreign companies in Germany, Switzerland and the UK, respectively.

Both in economic and legal terms, transnational corporations are the winners of the globalized economy. They are often caught up in a broad range of human rights violations, but the people running the firms are only rarely called before the courts, and even more rarely convicted for their wrongdoing.

However, taking legal action against transnational corporations for violations in their global supply chain is slowly becoming a more viable option. Social movements and NGOs from the Global South are increasingly using legal tools to address human rights violations involving foreign companies by taking action in the countries where these firms are headquartered.

ECCHR aims to use legal mechanisms to help break down unjust economic, social, political and legal power relations around the world. In its Business and Human Rights program, ECCHR assists the political and social struggles of those affected by corporate human rights violations by supporting strategic legal interventions in Europe.


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