Companies leading the transition to renewable energy are failing in human rights responsibilities
Over 500 allegations of human rights abuse have been linked to the extraction of key minerals needed to reach net-zero.
As pressure builds to extract the minerals needed for renewable energy equipment and technology, new figures have revealed the extent to which these transition minerals are linked to a concerning number of human rights abuses. Updated annually, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre’s Transition Minerals Tracker spotlights the human rights implications of mining six minerals key to the energy transition: cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc. The latest figures published today (7 June 2023) added 65 new allegations of human rights abuse from 2022 – bringing the total number of abuses recorded since 2010 up to a staggering 510.
Local communities and Indigenous peoples face the greatest risks from companies sourcing the transition minerals, especially when they act as human rights defenders (HRDs). Attacks on HRDs are the most frequently recorded type of abuse in the Tracker, recorded in 20% of allegations in 2022 and 29% of allegations since 2010. Indigenous Peoples and their communities were the victims of 38% of attacks on defenders in 2022.
Poor governance and lack of effective due diligence by companies, investors and governments awarding licences in the extractives sector have been identified as causes of many of the worst human rights abuses. Figures for 2022 revealed corruption as an increasing problem with transition mineral mining – often linked to human rights abuses. Ten allegations were related to tax, corruption and disclosures of payments were recorded in 2022. The water intensity required for mining operations was highlighted as another significant threat to communities of transition mineral mining, with 15 allegations of abuse recorded relating to water pollution, issues with access to water, or both.
Basic respect for human and environmental rights, which centres communities and workers, is a fundamental first step to achieving a just and sustainable energy transition. However, less than half of the companies associated with allegations of abuse in 2022 have human rights policies in place. Further, over half the allegations of abuse were connected to just five companies: China Minmetals, Solway Group, Glencore, Grupo Mexico and Codelco. Together, these companies accounted for 35 out of 65 allegations of abuse. Glencore is linked to the highest number allegations of abuse, with 70 allegations of abuse since 2010 and five allegations of abuse in 2022
Heidi Hautala, Vice-President of the European Parliament, said: “Injustice and power imbalances between the Global North and countries endowed with mineral resources has long been the unfortunate norm. It is however now clear that the conditions of supply of key minerals for the energy transition must be fairer if we are to scale up renewable energy capacities at the speed required to avoid global climate catastrophe. It must not come at the cost of human rights – and we know it does not have to.
“It is critical emerging legislation on securing global mineral supply chains, such as the Critical Raw Materials Act, ensure mining companies clean up their acts. It is equally crucial that it seriously considers measures to curb demand for new minerals to reduce pressure on local communities in resource-rich countries”.
Mutuso Dhliwayo, Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association Executive Director, said: “Communities in resource-rich countries who have already borne the cost of decades of irresponsible mineral extraction, are at real risk of paying again as the world pursues a rapid transition to renewable energy, dependent on these resources to power clean energy installations and batteries across the world. But as the Tracker demonstrates, they are also increasingly saying ‘no’ to an irresponsible transition, through protest and the courts to protect their rights. A human rights-focused transition, that centres Indigenous peoples, local communities and vulnerable workers, is the only way to ensure a global energy shift that is fair, so that it can also be fast.”
Caroline Avan, Natural Resources Researcher, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “Transition minerals are essential to power clean and green technologies, but the number of human rights issues linked to their extraction fundamentally threatens the speed and scale of a successful transition to net-zero. Community resistance – through protest and the courts – to this approach to transition mineral mining is on the rise. Ignoring these risks will inevitably lead to conflict, harm and violence in communities and to defenders – and delay any progress towards the rapid decarbonisation urgently needed to avert the climate crisis.
Achieving a just transition for all depends on three core principles, which companies, investors, and states should commit to. First, fair and equal negotiations host communities, beginning with Free, Prior and Informed Consent for Indigenous communities and respect for local community rights. Transition mineral extraction must then ensure shared prosperity with those communities, and both local governments and communities must implement robust human rights due diligence processes which prevent and mitigate abuses in extraction supply chains.”
Notes to editors:
- The 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.
- The Transition Minerals Tracker is updated annually to monitor the human rights policies and practices of companies mining six key commodities vital to the clean energy transition: cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc. Extraction of these six minerals – core components for renewable energy technology – is expected to rise dramatically with growing demand for renewable energy technologies.