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Canadian oil company Pacific Rubiales in Colombia
Fairtrade certified?

Pacific Rubiales has received Fairtrade certification for petroleum production in the sites of Rubiales and Quifa, Colombia. Fairtrade certification was granted by Equitable Origin, after a process carried out by Deloitte Colombia. This news is surprising. It removes all credibility from the process of Fairtrade certification.

Pacific Rubiales Energy is one of the leading oil extraction companies registered in Canada. In 2013 in a session of the People’s Court on extractive policies in Colombia, it was found guilty of a series of violations regarding labor, environmental and indigenous people’s rights.

This Fairtrade certification has been issued for the first time to Pacific Rubiales for their « […] performance exemplaire sur les plans social et environnemental » (exemplary performance in the social and environmental fields), regarding their petroleum production in Colombia. However, the daily practice of this Canadian oil company in Colombia raises doubts about how and why they could be afforded the Fairtrade certification and the legitimacy of this certification.

The main oil field of this Canadian company is located in the Colombian Department of Meta. Pacific Rubiales also owns several subsidiaries in the oil and mining sectors in Colombia. The practice of oil extraction in these territories has significantly reduced the amount of available water, not to mention that this water is increasingly contaminated and a source of skin diseases among residents of the territory, the Sikuani indigenous people.  In May 2014, a citizen council mobilized in front of the Pacific Rubiales building in Bogota, demanding that the Colombian authorities revise the company’s environmental licenses.

PASC, supported by the Interinstitutional Research Center of Environmental Toxicology of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM), recently investigated the contaminated water in Campo Rubiales. The results of this investigation revealed alarming rates of hydrocarbons in many of the collected samples2.

In 2011, the Colombian Constitutional Court issued a sentence (T-693/11) to Meta Petroleum/Pacific Rubiales for not having respected the preliminary consultation of the indigenous peoples. The company has been ordered to pay near 2 million American dollars to the Achagua community as a compensation for the social, environmental and cultural damages it has done.

These same consequences can be found in the sacred traditional territories of the Sikuanis, where Pacific Rubiales has proceeded to construct a pipeline without respecting the preliminary consultation principle. The Colombian army and police forces monitor the dam and pipeline infrastructure. Pacific Rubiales has hired around 14,000 workers, including 6,000 armed men (police, army and private security forces), to protect its installations.

The People’s Court jury also condemned the Canadian oil company for various violations of labor rights such as the right to freedom of association, the right to work as working conditions, employment, and wage rate were in violation with Colombian standards, and of human rights because of aggressions, death threats, attacks, accusations, murder attempts against unionized workers.

In order to emerge from the conflict generated by unacceptable working conditions that included 28 day contracts, poor sanitary, salary and health conditions, etc., in 2011 the company created an employer’s union, imposing its affiliation in order to break free from the Colombian petroleum industry union, the USO (Unión Sindical Obrera de la Industria del Petroleo). In December 2012, Milton Rivas, a worker affiliated with the USO, was assassinated.

Towards the end of 2013, many sindicalists of the USO were arrested in connection with their union activities. Campo Elías Ortiz, Héctor Sánchez and José Dilio Naranjo were held as detainees for 75 days. Unfortunately, Dario Cardenas, vice-president of the USO-Meta, who was arrested in Villavicencio on November 2nd 2013 is still being held today.

In May 2014, the region’s residents witnessed the arrival of 700 armed men as well as the mobilization of paramilitary troops. In an oil-rich region like this one, it would be hard to call it a coincidence. The National Environmental Licensing Agency (ANLA) visited the site in July 2014, with members of the community and organizations such as PASC, in order to verify the facts: the caravan was continuously followed by vehicles without any license plate whose passengers were photographing local witnesses.  

A few months ago a campaign called “Common Front against the renewal of the Campo Rubiales contract” was launched.  Many trade union organizations, including the CUT (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Colombia) and the USO, the Polo Democratico’s elected representatives, as well as several NGOs united to oppose the renewal of the contract between Pacific Rubiales and Ecopetrol, which will expire in 2016.

How can a Fairtrade certification be granted to Pacific Rubiales Energy for its activities in Rubiales and Quifa, Colombia, when it consistently violates human rights and foments and profits from Colombia’s social and armed conflict?