Bulgaria: Govt. & domestic banks allegedly support coal mining & energy companies accused of labour rights abuses & environmental pollution; includes comments by banks & govt.

The report "The Financial Mines – Murky banking interests in the Bulgarian coal industry drain public funds, destroy thousands of human lives and heavily contaminate the environment” by Greenpeace details human rights abuses and environmental pollution by coal mining and energy companies in Bulgaria. It claims that the Bulgarian Government and domestic banks support these companies. 

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the companies and the banks mentioned in the report to respond. First Investment Bank and Investbank have responded. Corporate Commercial Bank did not respond because it no longer exists. The following mines have not yet responded: Chukurovo, Staniantsi, Cherno More – Burgas, Balkan 2000, and Fundamental. The heating systems of Burgas, Pernik, Pleven, Ruse, Veliko Tarnovo, Vratsa, and Sliven have not yet responded. The following thermal power plants have not yet responded: Maritsa 3, TPP Bobov Dol, and Brikel. We did not invite Mina Beli Breg AD, Mina Otkrit Vagledobiv, Vagledobiv Bobov Dol OOD and Toplofikatsia - Gabovo EAD as contact information was not available. 

We also invited Bulgarian government agencies to respond. Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, General Labour Inspectorate, Prosecutor’s Office and Public Financial Inspection Agency have not yet responded. The Ombudsman have responded.

Materials with full information and the responses & non-responses are below. 

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Report
28 February 2018

The Financial Mines – Murky banking interests in the Bulgarian coal industry drain public funds, destroy thousands of human lives and heavily contaminate the environment

Author: Greenpeace Bulgaria

A group of around 20 Bulgarian companies active in coal mining, electricity and heat production form a closely integrated secretive business structure. The companies are owned by foreign firms on paper, but are evidently linked to one or more domestic banks. This “Coal Empire” is highly indebted, with an accumulated loss of close to 200 million euro as well as delayed payments of taxes, salaries and social contributions nearing 113 million euro. However, the authorities are turning a blind eye to the issue. Some of the biggest air polluters in Europe enjoy huge price subsidies for their “efficient energy”...The coal miners have to accept monthly wages of 300, rarely 400 euro. The miners are often left without pay for months on end and their desperate protests are blatantly suppressed. In the last ten years 23 people have died and 17 have been left disabled while working under the unhealthy and dangerous conditions of the Bulgarian coal extraction industry...Commonalities among the companies include: Horrible labor conditions and miserable wages...Massive environmental pollution...Systematical bullying and humiliation of the workers...Company creditors are exclusively Bulgarian banks: primarily, the First Investment Bank (FIB), followed by Investbank and the already mentioned Corporate Commercial Bank...In the Bulgarian public domain these companies are commonly associated with the businessperson Hristo Kovachki...[P]reparing this report we analyzed the annual financial reports of 19 companies including 8 mines, 8 district heating systems and 3 TPPs for the ten-year span between 2007 and 2016...The mines that were analyzed are the following: Chukurovo, Beli Breg, Staniantsi, Cherno More – Burgas, Mini Otkrit Vagledobiv – Pernik, Balkan 2000, Vagledobiv Bobov Dol, and Fundamental. This network also includes the district heating systems of Burgas, Pernik, Pleven, Ruse, Veliko Tarnovo, Gabrovo, Vratsa, and Sliven. The TPPs are Maritsa 3, TPP Bobov Dol, and Brikel... 

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Company response
27 February 2018

Response by First Investment Bank

Author: First Investment Bank

...First Investment bank (“FIB”)...rejects the notion that its relations with the energy industry are “murky”...The unidentified authors of the Greenpeace report might better address their social justice concerns to the Bulgarian authorities rather than insinuating that FIB loans to the energy sector pose a threat to the Bulgarian banking system without checking the facts with us...FIB rejects as untenable and unsubstantiated the statement and conclusions in the Report with respect to any alleged hidden or unprofessional links between FIB and companies operating in Bulgaria’s energy sector...[W]e strongly highlight the fact that FIB had always respected human rights, advocated for their observance and treated all human being with utmost respect...We consider it highly irresponsible...to cite the 2017 European Semester Report on Bulgaria insinuating that FIB loans to energy companies constitute a non-performing exposure that creates systematic risk. This is a subject which has been reviewed exhaustively by the Bulgarian national Bank and by European Commission supervisors overseeing the financial assistance provided to FIB in 2014, assistance that was repaid ahead of schedule...

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Company non-response
26 February 2018

Brikel EAD did not respond

Company non-response
26 February 2018

Fundamental EOOD did not respond

Company response
26 February 2018

Investbank response

Author: Investbank

...Investbank JSC is a Bulgarian commercial bank with a transparent shareholding structure and foreign participation that operates in strict compliance with  Bulgarian legislation, meets all the regulatory requirements for banking activity in Bulgaria and as part of the banking system contributes the banking sector being a sustainable factor of economic stability...Energy sector, in which these companies are operating, has a structuring effect for the Bulgarian economy and there is hardly as financial institution in the country with no exposures in it. Observing that these companies comply with environmental and safety standards lies within the competence of state institutions. 

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Company non-response
26 February 2018

Mina Balkan 2000 EAD did not respond

Company non-response
26 February 2018

Mina Cherno More-Burgas EAD did not respond

Company non-response
26 February 2018

Mina Chukurovo AD did not respond

Company non-response
26 February 2018

Mina Staniantsi AD did not respond

Item
26 February 2018

Response by Ombudsman of Republic of Bulgaria

Author: The Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria

...As regards the labour of the employed in the mining industry, the Ombudsman has identified the need of protection of the rights of this specific category of labourers. In view of this, the Bulgarian Ombudsman supported the protests of the miners from Babino mine in Bobov dol in relation to unpaid salaries, compensations and food vouchers...Maya Manolova held working meetings with representatives of the institutions in charge: Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, trade unions, and the company management. Following those meetings, the company management promised to pay the overdue salaries and food vouchers. Since these initial promises were not fully kept, the Ombudsman had to intervene again, and as a result a commitment was made to pay the overdue compensations to the miners in three times shorter period as initially agreed upon a proposal of Bobov dol Mining management...

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