CESCR Review of Netherlands: Failure to regulate TNC for rights violations in Peru

The Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, along with partners FIAN, Centro de Politicas Publicas y Derechos Humanos (EQUIDAD), and Pueblos Indígenas Amazónicos Unidos en Defensa de sus Territorios (PUINAMUDT), addressed human rights violations related to environmental damage in Peru caused by a Dutch energy company before the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  The Committee was urged to call up the Netherlands to regulate its corporations to prevent human rights violations abroad and to provide victims access to justice in the case of such violations. The Joint Parallel Report submitted to the Committee is available HERE.

Our statement to the Committee reads:

The Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights welcomes this opportunity to discuss Covenant obligations of the Netherlands.  We have submitted a joint report with FIAN, Centro de Politicas Publicas y Derechos Humanos (EQUIDAD), and Pueblos Indígenas Amazónicos Unidos en Defensa de sus Territorios (PUINAMUDT) dealing with corporate accountability with a particular focus on the Netherlands’ extra-territorial obligation to protect Covenant rights.

Our report focuses on a particular situation involving the activities of a Dutch energy company in Perú.  PlusPetrol, registered and headquartered in the Netherlands, has conducted activities in Perú resulting in substantial environmental damage and with negative impact on Covenant rights.  As our report discusses in detail, PlusPetrol is a primary driver of oil exploration on the territories of five indigenous peoples that inhabit the basins of the four rivers in the Peruvian Amazon.  Their communities have been affected by years of oil exploitation.

Oil exploration has involved dumping toxic waste water directly into rivers and streams as well as leaks of petroleum into rivers, streams and other water sources.  When mitigation efforts have taken place, they fell far short of what was necessary.  For instance, rather than properly cleaning oil spills, they have been burned off, thereby causing toxic fumes, or buried in the ground causing long lasting environmental degradation.

The oil exploration activities have consequently caused substantial destruction to the indigenous communities’ sources of water and food.  Resulting pollution also has had detrimental health effects, particularly on children.  Studies carried out in 2005 and 2006, for instance, determined that 66.21 per cent of children under 18 years of age exceeded the established limit for lead and 98.65 per cent exceeded the levels of cadmium.

The Committee should call upon the Netherlands to:

  • Investigate the record of Pluspetrol in Perú, both in terms of human rights law, environmental law and tax law, in cooperation with Peruvian authorities.

  • Regulate corporations headquartered, incorporated or domiciled within its territory to ensure that they do not harm human rights throughout their activities including abroad and hold them accountable in Dutch courts in the event of such harm.

  • Ensure access to justice, accountability and remedies for those persons harmed by such corporations.

Ultimately the Committee expressed concern at reports of serious damage to the environment and to indigenous peoples livelihoods caused in Peru by a company domiciled in the Netherlands and recommended that the Netherlands:

(a)       Include a formal monitoring mechanism in the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights;

(b)       Take measures to ensure compliance  with human rights obligations for companies operating in the territory of the State party;

(c)       Take measures to ensure physical safety and mental health of the people residing in the area of gas extraction in Groningen, as well the security and safety of their homes; provide proper compensation to the victims; and prevent future occurrences of damages related to gas extractions;

(d)       Expedite an overhaul of the oil refinery industry in Curaçao with a view to averting pollution;

(e)       Remove the legal and practical obstacles to holding accountable companies domiciled under the State party’s jurisdiction, for violations of economic, social and cultural rights, resulting from their operations on the national territory or abroad.

The Committee also drew attention to its General Comment No. 24 on State Obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Context of Business Activities.