On 16 January 2020, the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) Switzerland filed a complaint against BKW Group (BKW) at the Swiss NCP. The complaint concerns BKW’s continuing investment in Fosen Vind DA through the European consortium of investors Nordic Wind Power DA founded by Credit Suisse Energy Infrastructure Partners AG. This consortium, together with Statkraft and TrønderEnergi, is funding the construction and operation of a large onshore wind power plant in Norway.
One of the six wind farms is located in Storheia (Fosen peninsula), an area of crucial importance to the local indigenous Sami community as it represents 44% of the winter pastureland for their reindeer. The wind energy project has generated strong opposition from the Sami people since the wind turbines and associated infrastructure threaten their access to this area. This not only violates their territorial rights but also jeopardizes their practice of reindeer husbandry and as such their source of livelihood as well as an important part of their culture.
The complainant maintains that, given BKW’s knowledge of the human rights violations associated with this project, the company, in maintaining business relations with Fosen Vind DA as well as the implementing partner Statkraft, has not only disrespected its own internal polices but also breached numerous international standards and agreements, including the OECD Guidelines. Particularly, the STP alleges that BKW has neither taken concrete steps to exercise effective human rights due diligence nor has it leveraged its direct influence as an investor to encourage its investees to prevent or mitigate the adverse impacts of the project.
The STP is therefore seeking mediation support from the Swiss NCP in order to negotiate with BKW regarding the adaptation and implementation of its internal policies as well as the improvement of its human rights due diligence. Most importantly, the STP seeks of BKW to commit to the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), in order to ensure a genuine consultation process with indigenous communities affected by the company’s investment projects. It also seeks for the energy company to introduce a grievance mechanism for local and indigenous communities and respect their land rights in this as well as in all future projects.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
- Chapter II
- Chapter II Paragraph A10
- Chapter II Paragraph A13
- Chapter IV
- Chapter IV Paragraph 3
- Chapter IV Paragraph 5
On 12 May 2020, the Swiss NCP published its initial assessment in which it concluded that the issues raised in the submission merited further consideration. The NCP accepted the specific instance and offered its good offices to the parties.
The NCP subsequently organised four mediation meetings between 9 September 2020 and 28 June 2021.
On 26 August 2021, the Swiss NCP published its final statement concluding the case with a full agreement after both parties participated in mediation. Notably, BKW agreed to revise its Code of Conduct and integrate the respect of human rights as well as the principle of FPIC concerning vulnerable groups. The company also agreed to further develop its human rights due diligence and implement FPIC throughout the life-cycle of projects. BKW further agreed to make its grievance mechanism accessible to all groups affected by its projects and provide for or cooperate in the appropriate remediation of adverse impacts. BKW will demand a similar commitment from its business partners and will reflect its human rights standards in contracts with business partners, including the option to withdraw in the case of continued non-compliance.
The NCP further recommended that both parties continue their dialogue and collaboration, and BKW continue its efforts to work on the implementation of the joint agreement and to anchor the results within its internal processes.
A follow-up will be conducted in six months, including written progress reports from each party and a meeting to discuss the written information received from the parties.