Government and energy producers sign voluntary agreement on coal

The Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, signed a voluntary agreement today with five Dutch energy producers (E.ON Benelux, EPZ, Essent, GDF Suez Energie Nederland and Nuon) on corporate social responsibility in the coal supply chain. The aim is to improve social and environmental conditions in coal mines. The minister said that signing the agreement was an important first step. ‘It shows that Dutch companies take their responsibilities seriously and recognise that they have a social role as buyers of coal. They are setting an example to their European counterparts.’

Under the agreement, the energy producers undertake to carefully examine their supply chains for possible abuses and to make agreements with mining companies to address any problems they identify. Every year they will report on their efforts and publish a list of the mines they have done business with. The producers are also jointly accountable for abuses at the mines from which they buy coal. Frans Geers, Director for Generation at E.ON, said ‘This voluntary agreement is a good step towards further improving the social and environmental conditions in which coal is extracted. Clear agreements have been made on greater transparency about the origin of coal. But that is not an end in itself. This agreement gives energy companies – in conjunction with the Dutch government – more influence to further improve circumstances at the mines and hold those responsible for them to account.’

Under the voluntary agreement the government undertakes to support energy producers in their efforts and to put the issue on the agenda in contacts with other countries. Ms Ploumen will also examine whether she can contribute to the improvement of environmental and working conditions at coal mines in Colombia. Clear agreements have been made for tackling abuses in the coal sector, according to the minister. ‘In spite of the improvements we have seen in recent years, there are still problems linked to the mines. Coal extraction can still have an adverse impact on the environment and the interests of local people are sometimes too readily overlooked. The energy companies are using their economic muscle to bring about change on these points. And they are jointly accountable for any abuses. That is real progress.’ Ms Ploumen noted that the results of the voluntary agreement would be discussed annually with other stakeholders. ‘This way we can together ensure that commitments are fulfilled and examine what can be improved.’

The minister will visit Colombia in late November, where she will be heading a trade mission. She will also visit the Cesar coal-mining region with energy companies, a delegation from the House of Representatives and a number of civil society organisations. Colombia is a major supplier of coal to the Dutch and European markets. The coal used in Europe comes mainly from Colombia, South Africa, the United States and Russia.