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Human rights abuse cannot be the price paid for essential energy transition

New analysis released today (02.02.21) identifies 276 allegations of human rights abuses against companies mining minerals central to renewable energy technologies: cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc. Capturing this data in its Transition Minerals Tracker, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is calling on mining companies, renewable energy companies, investors and governments to take stronger action to end abuse in renewable energy supply chains as they lead the essential charge to achieve a net-zero carbon future. The urgent transition to clean energy relies on fair treatment of communities and workers in the industry.

Our latest update of the Transition Minerals Tracker finds:

  • 276 human rights allegations recorded against companies over the past ten years (2010-2020)
  • Almost half (45%) the allegations regard impacts on communities, including intimidation and attacks on people, civil society organisations and their leaders. Impacts range from effects on livelihoods, forced relocation and protests, to allegations of silencing critics through threats and intimidation
  • Environmental harm to communities is common, with over a third (38%) of allegations (106) relating to access to water or pollution of water sources. This is especially tragic given that these minerals feed an industry seeking to tackle climate change through more responsible use of natural resources
  • While just 18 of these companies account for four in every five (80%) of the allegations, the remaining abuses are spread widely across the sector, suggesting companies’ systems to prevent abuse are insufficient and require urgent strengthening
  • One in every five allegations are related to corruption or tax avoidance, consistent with the historical governance issues that have afflicted the mining sector

Jessie Cato, Programme Manager, Natural Resources and Human Rights, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said, “The urgent transition to clean energy will stall if it is built on the abuse of communities and workers. This research highlights the scale and scope of harm created by the booming transition minerals sector, on which so many of our hopes rely. Companies, investors and governments have an urgent task to transform their business models, or expect resistance, suspensions and delay. Getting this right, as the boom in transition minerals intensifies, is essential to companies’ long-term profitability, as well as the shared prosperity of communities and workers.

“Mining companies must prevent abuse in their projects. Renewable energy companies and their investors must demand clean supply chains for their essential minerals. Governments must insist on corporate liability if companies’ persist with abuse in their operations or supply chains.”

“I used to go to the Kafue river to draw water and started drinking it as normal. I saw that fish had died and were floating on the river. We ate the fish and soon everyone started crying with stomach pains… I collapsed and was taken to a hospital. The diagnosis was that I had drunk or eaten something acidic which had caused damage to my chest and intestines. I was told the damage was permanent… Everyone here has been affected in some way.”

Zambian claimant against copper mining company, August 2015

Ms Cato added, “Our fresh data points to this new sector of ‘transition minerals’ repeating the mistakes of the old mining companies. If we are to achieve a just transition to net zero-carbon economies, there has to be a transformation of the business model, through investor action, government regulation and business incentives. If green energy is to be clean energy, it must learn from the mistakes of the past, and move forward in a rights respecting way.”

//ENDS

Find out more

See the full data set and analysis on our Transition Minerals Tracker

Find out more: Water is a human right

Background to our work

Media contact: Pippa Woolnough, Head of Communications, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, +353 (0)858353757, [email protected]

Jessie Cato, Programme Manager, Natural Resources and Human Rights, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, +49 (0)1573 5349421, [email protected]

Find out more

Transition Minerals Tracker

Tracking the human rights implications of the mineral boom powering the transition to a net zero carbon economy.

2021 Global Analysis

The Tracker researched the human rights policies and practices of 102 who hold a majority market share in one of the six key commodities vital to the clean energy transition. Many of these companies are beset with human rights allegations, 276 have been identified in the last ten years.

Flood of abuse

The fight for water in search of renewable energy has left many communities, stretching from Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Chile and Russia, asking whether promised economic or climate goals are worth their sacrifice.