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30 Apr 2024

Fuelling injustice: Transition mineral impacts in Eastern Europe & Central Asia

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As countries around the world strive to reduce carbon emissions to meet green transition goals, the demand for transition minerals is rapidly increasing. Previously neglected in the global analyses of transition minerals, Eastern Europe & Central Asia (EECA) is becoming a new hotspot for transition minerals extraction and supply. This is due to abundant reserves of transition minerals in EECA countries now critical to a fast transition to clean energy.

Over the last five years (2019-2023 inclusive), the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre tracked publicly reported allegations of environmental and human rights abuses linked to mining project development, extraction, and processing (smelting and refining) of transition minerals in EECA. We have identified 421 allegations of abuse linked to 20 transition minerals in 16 EECA countries: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Key findings:

  • Russia recorded the highest number of allegations of abuse (112), followed by Armenia (51), Ukraine (47), Georgia (36) and Kazakhstan (35). Russia accounted for over a quarter (27%) of the total allegations of abuse in EECA.
  • Copper accounted for 151 allegations, or 35% - making it the mineral with the highest number of allegations. Allegations related to copper extraction were recorded in 11 countries in the region.
  • Nearly half of the allegations concerned human rights abuses against workers (185 or 44%), while a similar proportion (178 or 42%) involved abuses against communities.
  • Occupational health and safety issues were recorded in 64% (118 allegations) of all impacts on workers, followed by workplace deaths (52 or 28%). Kazakhstan accounted for 43% of all allegations linked to occupational health and safety.
  • One hundred and thirty-nine allegations involved environmental harm predominantly affecting communities, where water pollution (52 or 29%), air pollution (48 or 27%) and soil pollution (39 or 22%) were the top three impacts recorded.
  • Sixty-six allegations (16%) were linked to protests by communities or workers. Attacks on human rights defenders opposing mining projects were recorded in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Serbia.
  • Georgia hosted the company (Georgian Manganese) and mines (Chiatura mines) with the highest number of allegations (31 and 22 respectively).
  • Eight out of the top 10 companies with the highest numbers of allegations are owned by oligarchs.

Our findings highlight how workers, local communities and the environment are, too often, paying the price for the energy transition in the EECA region. Transformation of existing business models in the EECA extractive sector is urgently needed to ensure the transition to clean energy is just and sustainable.

Explore the tracker

Find a company developing, mining or processing transition minerals to identify whether its activity has been linked to allegations of environmental and human rights abuses. This tracker includes companies and allegations covered by our EECA regional research.

Further reading

Road to rights: The human cost of the new "Middle Corridor"

As trade routes shift away from Russia and towards Central Asia, South Caucasus and Eastern Europe, this report outlines lessons for new investments into infrastructure projects in the region, urging investors, banks, and companies to adopt human rights approaches which will build shared prosperity and stable investment environments.

Drying up: Tracking the environmental and human rights harms caused by hydropower in the Caucasus and Central Asia

Based on data gathered over 10 years, BHRRC recorded more than 250 human rights and environmental issues relating to hydropower projects in Armenia, Georgia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which illustrate the unnecessary harm linked to the hydropower industry in the region. Negative impacts on communities were the most frequently recorded form of abuse, followed by damaging environmental impacts.

Transition Minerals Tracker

Tracking the human rights implications of the mineral boom powering the transition to a low-carbon economy.