“Dominion is sympathetic to the problems this village faces. We expect all of our suppliers — domestic and foreign — to adhere to all rules and regulations governing their operations. Dominion would like to see a just resolution to these issues,” it said. The power company formalized its position in a March 2007 letter to all of its coal suppliers, after a visit to the Cerrejón mine that same month. “At Dominion, we think it is important to periodically reinforce to our supply partners our position on ethical conduct and social responsibility,” the letter reads. “This simply means to try to work with regulators, employees, and those directly and indirectly affected by your operations with respect, dignity, and common decency,” including “negotiating in good faith with labor groups and interacting with stakeholders who are impacted by your operations.”
Although the letter is careful not to accuse any supplier of violating these principles, it does warn that “it is Dominion’s intention to seek out like-minded suppliers who share our dedicated commitment to these values to be our supply partners.” The company declined, however, to join a fact-finding delegation, as well as several invitations to arrange independent meetings with the mine’s union or to visit the affected communities while in the region. In September 2007, Dominion reiterated that “we are still purchasing coal from South America.”
Massachusetts residents who did participate in a fact-finding delegation (organized by this author and by the US-based grassroots organization Witness for Peace) to the mining region this past August took a much stronger view. “Now that I have met the people who are harmed by the mining of the coal that we use in New England, I understand that our lives are as closely connected as if we lived next door to one another,” says Boston-area resident Margey Colten. “I have learned that, whether we are consumers of Colombian coal or managers or shareholders of a mining company, we are all responsible for righting the wrongs that have been done to the people of the Guajira.” Adds Salem State College student Quin Gonnell, “We, as the consumers of this coal, should become aware of what is happening and hold our energy providers accountable for these blatant human-rights violations. Unlike those being starved and displaced in Colombia, we have a voice in this matter. We have the power to make a difference. . . . We must not remain apathetic to the thousands of lives being ruined on our behalf.”
Aviva Chomsky is a professor of history and coordinator of Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean studies at Salem State College, and the co-editor of The People Behind Colombian Coal: Mines, Multinationals, and Human Rights. She has led three delegations to the Colombian coal region, most recently in August 2007. She can be reached at email@example.com.