Oxfam: German companies complicit in human rights violations

The Three Gorges dam, which the German companies helped realise, has displaced over a million people. [Hugh/Flickr]

Forced relocation, violence and death: German companies Siemens and Voith are complicit in human rights violations through hydroelectric projects in countries such as Brazil and Honduras, according to a report by Oxfam. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The companies are responsible for a number of controversial hyroelectric projects in Honduras, Brazil, Colombia and China, and are the subject of a background paper produced by Oxfam and German organisation CounterCurrent.

Both companies are seeking to distance themselves from any responsibility regarding the murder of noted Honduran activist Bertá Cáceres and their due diligience obligations under the UN’s guidelines on business and human rights, the report insisted.

Voith Hydro, headquartered in the southern German town of Heidenheim, is one of the world’s main producers of hydroelectric turbines. The joint venture between the two companies sees Voith, the parent compant, enjoy a 65% stake. The report highlighted that, when confronted about its impact on climate change, Voith has regularly responded that it is a mere supplier. Siemens has claimed to not be responsible because it is not a part of the consortium and only has a 35% stakeof Voith Hydro.

Marita Wiggerthale, Oxfam’s land rights expert, also criticised Siemens and Voith for “acting like Pontius Pilate, who famously wanted to wash his hands clean too”.

The UN’s guiding principles on business and human rights outline how companies should be responsible and respect human rights when it comes to business ventures.

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In the case of the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras, Voith allegedly carried out no human rights risk assessment and turned a blind eye to massive human rights violations. “With their inaction Siemens and Voith disregard widely recognised international standards for business and human rights,” criticised CounterCurrent’s dam expert Christian Russau.

The Agua Zarca dam in Honduras is a prime example cited by Oxfam where the companies have failed to do their due dilligence. Indigenous human rights organisation COPINH has resisted the project from the outset, as the dam will restrict access to the Gualcarque River.

In March, activist Bertá Cáceres was assassinated along with another active member of the organisation. Cáceres had received threats just a week before her murder. Local police initially told media that she had been killed during a robbery, but family members and associates believe that she was murdered just after a violent eviction was carried out by Honduran security forces nearby.

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Other examples include the Sogamoso dam in northern Colombia, where, between 2009 and 2014, six activists have been killed and many more disappeared without a trace. Furthermore, the Belo Monte project in Brasil has denied the local population any say in the matter and no consent has been sought.

It is expected that over 20,000 people people will be displaced. The situation was even worse in China, where the Three Gorges dam, the largest in the world, necessitated the relocation of 1.3 million people. Both Siemens and Voith were involved in providing the electricity turbines.

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