Commentary: Human rights risks threaten battery supply chains' sustainability - now is the time to act

Author: Stephanie Regalia, Natural Resources Research Assistant, Published on: 18 March 2020

The battery and renewable energy industries are facing increased scrutiny for their human rights impacts...In response to growing concerns over the impacts of the transition to a low-carbon economy, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) developed the Transition Minerals Tracker, an online platform that tracks the human rights policies and practice of companies extracting minerals key to this energy transition...Analysis of allegations of human rights abuse we collected from 2010 to 2019 reveals that access to water, indigenous peoples’ rights, and labour rights are the most frequent human rights issues linked to these minerals...

One rising area of concern is how lithium mining is affecting indigenous people in the Lithium Triangle...Allegations collected by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre reveal that access to water has become a critical issue for the mostly indigenous communities living near these lithium mines. A recent report by Observatorio Ciudadano, Chile, and BHRRC...warns that most harms have gone unaddressed by the lithium industry and that many issues stem from the lack of proper consultation with affected communities...

The human cost of mineral extraction raises the question: what can end-user companies, such as battery manufacturers, buyers and solar panel producers do to address these risks?

Adopting a comprehensive human rights policy...is a start. But policy statements alone are not enough. For example, data from the Transition Minerals Tracker reveals that 61% (14/23) of the top global companies mining cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc have a human rights policy in place, but 87% (20/23) have human rights allegations linked to their operations. A thorough due diligence process is necessary...Pressure is increasing for renewable energy companies as well. Later this year, BHRRC will launch the first Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark, which will evaluate and rank renewable energy companies’ human rights policies and practice...

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