Investigation Appears to be the First Time U.S. Citizens Have Received Help from the Organization to Protect Against Corporate Violations of International Environmental, Health and Human Rights Standards on U.S. Soil
RANSON, W.Va. (Sept. 17, 2020) — The Danish Mediation and Complaints-Handling Institution for Responsible Business Conduct this week announced that it will open a formal investigation into a complaint alleging that insulation giant Rockwool International A/S has violated international standards of business conduct in the state of West Virginia. The complaint came from West Virginians for Sustainable Development (WVSD), a kitchen-table community group that has joined myriad other local organizations in a David-versus-Goliath dispute with the Denmark-based Rockwool over local autonomy and alleged anti-democratic corporate misbehavior.
This formal investigation appears to be the first time that American citizens have received support through the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) mechanism to promote compliance with the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. First established in 1976, these international guidelines set a floor for responsible business conduct which, while non-binding, has been accepted by governments and business alike particularly as a guide for operating in developing nations. Rockwool, which publicly positions itself as being committed to sustainable environmental and corporate business practices, has declined to participate in mediation discussions. The formal investigation should conclude within several months.
“We thank those involved in the WVSD effort and we especially thank Denmark’s Institution for recognizing that Rockwool’s actions deserve rigorous investigation,” said Stacy Tabb, President of Jefferson County Vision. “The acceptance of the complaint by an international organization to examine Rockwool will hopefully prompt local officials in Ranson and West Virginia to raise their standards and to rethink their ill-considered attempts to bring heavy industry to our region.”
The complaint stems from West Virginia’s highly secretive efforts in 2017 to bring heavy industry to WV’s Jefferson County, about 70 miles northwest of Washington D.C. Numerous citizen groups have pleaded with state officials for help in halting the construction of Rockwool’s factory, which if completed will operate across the road from an elementary school in a low-income area. These state officials include Governor Jim Justice, Senator Joe Manchin and Congressman Alex Mooney.
Seeing little or no support from key state leaders, and alarmed by Rockwool’s actions in West Virginia, the WVSD decided to look abroad for help. In October 2019, a coalition of community groups led by the WVSD filed its complaint, alleging Rockwool’s violation of the OECD Guidelines, with the Mediation and Complaints-Handling Institution for Responsible Business Conduct. It is a non-judicial institution that serves as the OECD National Contact Point in Denmark, enabling companies, organizations, and public authorities to resolve disagreements regarding infringements of human rights, international environmental standards, or corruption.
The Danish investigation will focus on three areas of concern: political improprieties, air quality risks, and water quality threats associated with the proposed Rockwool factory in Ranson, WV. The WVSD seeks an immediate end to construction of the factory, which continues unabated. Alternatively, WVSD has suggested more than a dozen remedies, including reconsideration of Rockwool’s air quality permit, independent human health and environmental risk assessments, and additional air and water quality monitoring and safeguards.
The complaint is co-signed by West Virginia Delegate John Doyle, West Virginia Delegate Sammi Brown, Jefferson County Commissioner Jane Tabb, Jefferson County Commissioner Ralph Lorenzetti, Leesburg Town Council Member Neil Steinberg, Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Potomac Valley Audubon Society, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, West Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, and West Virginians for Sustainable Development. In total, more than thirty community organizations and municipalities have formally opposed the Rockwool factory in Ranson since its groundbreaking in the summer of 2018.