Scotland is being urged to stop burning "ethically dirty coal" from Colombia.
The country is also being asked to pull the public sector's multi-million pound investment in the vast Cerrejón mine in the La Guajira region of Colombia. The mine, which covers 69,000 hectares, has forcibly displaced farming communities, polluted water supplies and destroyed sacred sites, according to Colombian campaigners who are due in Scotland this week.
"The coal which is used to warm your houses on cold nights is the same coal which has taken our homes from us," says Rogelio Ustate from the Federation of Communities Displaced by Mining in La Guajira (Fecodemigua).
Loading article content
"The coal that comes from Cerrejón is dirty coal, stained by the blood and sweat of the people of La Guajira. In Europe, people enjoy light at the suffering of these communities."
He alleges that children have died because of a contaminated river, and that the mine uses huge amounts of water leaving people dying of thirst. "Coal mining in Colombia has led to the destruction of the social fabric ... and the destruction and disappearance of sacred sites," he says.
According to government figures, nearly four million tonnes of Colombian coal was imported to Hunterston in north Ayrshire in 2013. A substantial portion ended up being burned in Scotland's biggest power station at Longannet in Fife.
The Cerrejón mine is one-third owned by BHP Billiton, a £40 billion Anglo-Australian mining giant. Research by the Sunday Herald has revealed that in 2013, Scotland's main public-sector pension scheme covering 430 bodies invested £64 million in the company.
The Scottish Parliament is part of a pension scheme that invests £327,000 in BHP Billiton, while Edinburgh University invests just under £1m and Glasgow University last year invested £80,000. Francisco Tovar, also from Fecodemigua, called on BHP Billiton investors to consider the livelihoods that the mine was threatening. "The suffering, the hunger and the pain cannot be justified by any profit made," he said.
Tovar and Ustate protested at BHP Billiton's annual meeting in London on Thursday, and are due in Scotland this week to talk to MSPs, coal-mining communities and the public. Their tour has been organised by campaigning groups in the UK, and they will be joined by environmentalists from Indonesia worried about the company's coal plans for Borneo.
One of the organisers, Coal Action Scotland, demanded that Longannet cease burning Colombia coal. "By burning this coal, Scotland is complicit in the human rights abuses and massive environmental damage caused by open-cast mining in Colombia," said the group's Oliver Munnion.
Demands to disinvest from BHP Billiton have been backed by John Finnie MSP, who joined the Scottish Green Party earlier this month. He praised Glasgow University for its recent decision to stop investing in fossil-fuel companies, and urged the Scottish Parliament to follow suit.
The parliament, however, pointed out that its pension scheme was pooled and independently managed. Edinburgh University is currently reviewing whether to disinvest from fossil-fuel companies.
Scottish Power, which operates Longannet, confirmed that it imported coal from Colombia, but declined to say how much. "Our coal procurement contracts include clauses which assert that suppliers must have good practices for supporting and respecting the protection of human rights," said a company spokesman.
BHP Billiton accepted that there had been problems in Colombia, but insisted it "cared deeply" about the criticisms. "As a shareholder in the Cerrejón mine, we take a very active interest in the way the mine is working and the relationship with the local community," said company chairman Jac Nasser. "We know progress has been made and that the Cerrejón management team is absolutely committed to maintaining and improving its relationship with the local communities," he added. "We recognise that Cerrejón is operating in an extremely difficult socio-political environment and that this history is long and complex."
The company pointed out that the mine made a major contribution to the economy in Colombia. In 2013, it created more than 14,000 jobs directly and indirectly, and paid $650 million (£400m) in taxes and royalties.