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Extractive projects breeding ground for major human rights abuses in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Investors face reputational risk over links to allegations of environmental destruction, death and violence

Extractives projects are a major source of human rights abuses in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, according to new research published today (9 June 2021). The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre analysed the human rights policies and performance of 30 extractives companies in the region. The analysis showed very serious alleged human rights abuses related to hazardous working conditions, other labour rights abuses, health effects, severe environmental impacts, and even allegations of death and violence. The top ten extractive companies in Armenia, Georgia and Kazakhstan were included in the study, with 167 human rights issues noted across all 30 companies.

Key findings:

  • Companies in Kazakhstan recorded the highest number of human rights issues (73), followed by Armenia (60) and then Georgia (34).
  • Poor access to information on business activities was a concern. It was extremely difficult to find any information on the human rights performance of eight of the 30 companies researched, while 22 companies had noted issues around access to information.
  • There is an alarming gap between policy and practice. Although 19 companies have human rights policies, all of them faced allegations of abuse.
  • Allegations relating to environmental and water rights were the most common (25 allegations), followed closely by access to information (22), health and safety (22) and livelihood and standard of living (22). Community, culture and property rights (20) and labour rights (19) were also noted as serious points of concern, with fair compensation and wages a common issue.
  • Deaths and violence were among the most severe human rights abuses found in company activities in all three countries.

Western investors and financial institutions were linked to these allegations: the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank Group supported at least 12 of the 30 companies according to public records. Companies based in Western Europe, Canada and the U.S. held ownership in 16 of the 30 companies investigated. Despite these financial institutions and parent companies having significant influence over the extractives projects they invest in, they rarely intervened in serious allegations of abuse. In failing to do so, many of them presumably violate their own social, environmental and human rights standards.

Ashley Nancy Reynolds, Research Assistant for Eastern Europe & Central Asia at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “Powerful political interests and corruption in Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan play a prominent role in allowing companies to get away with serious human rights abuses. Fuelling the impunity is the lack of publicly available information on the human rights harms these extractives projects are causing. 

“Limited access to information about business activities has prevented abused communities and human rights defenders from accessing avenues to remedy, with many saying they don’t even receive answers from governments and companies when they raise concerns. Communities on the frontline must have access to information which will allow them to pursue justice related to human rights and environmental problems. It’s alarming that in the majority of companies we researched, communities were being ignored and abuses were being allowed to continue.”

Ella Skybenko, Senior Researcher & Representative for Eastern Europe & Central Asia at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “There is a fundamental disconnect between companies’ public commitments to human rights and their actual performance, with many of the companies with the most comprehensive human rights policies being accused of severe human rights allegations – including death or violence. We must be cautious of human rights policies which give companies a ‘veneer of credibility’ regardless of the impact their operations are having in practice.

“Financial institutions and parent companies must exert their influence over the extractive projects they invest in, especially when it comes to serious allegations of human rights abuse. We have already seen some extractives companies lose funding over human rights violations, demonstrating the crucial role investors can play. Companies and investors must both wake up to the fact that it is no longer acceptable to simply point to policies and commitment statements when asked about their human rights impacts; they must be able to demonstrate they have addressed complaints and grievances of workers and impacted communities by providing satisfactory remedy.”

//ENDS

Note to editors

About the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts (positive and negative) of more than 10,000 companies across nearly 200 countries. We seek responses from companies when concerns are raised by civil society.

Media contact: Priyanka Mogul (London-based), Media Officer, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, +44 (0) 7880 956239, [email protected]