Minerals essential to energy transition linked to human rights abuses

With accelerating climate breakdown, transition minerals will be needed at scale in a rapid transition to zero carbon economies. However, more than 630 allegations of human rights abuse have been linked to the extraction of these minerals since 2010 – threatening the speed and scale of a successful transition and showing urgent action is needed by the mining sector and governments.

New data published by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) has revealed more than 90 allegations of these abuses were recorded in the last year alone, including widespread violations of environmental, land and Indigenous Peoples’ rights, and a worrying increase in abuse of workers. Ten companies were associated with more than 50% of all allegations tracked since 2010. These include companies among the most established in the sector (China Minmetals, Glencore, Grupo Mexico, First Quantum Minerals and Solway Group). More than two-thirds of allegations were associated with just 20 companies.

BHRRC’s Transition Mineral Tracker has been tracking these abuses since 2010 and spotlights the human rights implications of mining seven key minerals (bauxite, cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc) needed for renewable energy technology and equipment, as well as for the crucial electrification of transport. Concerningly, one in four abuse allegations was a report of abuse against workers, including more than 50 allegations of work-related deaths since 2010. In addition, one in four allegations relate to an attack against human rights defenders, highlighting threats to those speaking out against irresponsible business practices. These figures are likely reflective of a much broader trend, as we rely only on publicly available data, and many abuses go unreported.

The Transition Mineral Tracker was updated today (16th May 2024), with results revealing mining companies are not taking the risks seriously enough. The latest key findings revealed:

  • Between 2010 and 2023, at least 631 allegations of abuse have been associated with the mining of key transition minerals. In 2023, 91 allegations of abuse were recorded.
  • Indigenous Peoples disproportionately bear the brunt of the harmful impacts of transition minerals mining: 61 allegations (10%) impacted their rights, including 36 alleged violations of their right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).
  • People defending human and environmental rights continue to be attacked, with almost one in four attacks recorded against them (143 attacks).
  • Labour rights abuses, including risks of severe hazards and occupational health issues, are a stark reality in the sector, with 163 allegations (25%) impacting workers. This included 53 work-related deaths (1 in 12 allegations).
  • Of all the companies associated with at least one allegation of abuse, only 39% have a human rights policy in place.
  • At least 17 allegations were linked to gendered impacts of transition mineral mining operations. This included lack of respect for women’s social, political and economic participation, livelihoods, health, access to jobs, as well as egregious accusations of rape and sexual abuses.
  • One in two allegations of abuse were linked to the impacts of mining operations on local environment and resources. A total of 309 allegations were associated with at least one harm to the environment.

Caroline Avan, Head of Natural Resources and Just Transition at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “Climate change is the greatest threat to human rights. While policy options to curb demand for new mining exist and must be considered, new transition minerals will be needed at scale in the coming decades to power the technologies on which the energy transition depends.

But findings from our Transition Minerals Tracker expose how the extraction of these minerals is linked to a damning number of human rights abuses, including widespread violations of the right of local communities to a clean environment and threats to Indigenous Peoples’ rights and livelihoods. A marked increase in labour rights violations, including an unacceptable number of work-related deaths, expose how the sector is blatantly failing at protecting those who generate its profits. They are often the self-same individuals and families living near mining sites.

“This lack of basic respect for human and environmental rights is a red alert that governments’ regulation and better practice by companies is essential in order to ensure that the global energy transition is a just one, centred on respect for human rights, fair negotiations, and shared prosperity. The alternative is rising resistance, conflict, and distrust – all threatening to slow the pace of the transition. To date, companies involved in the mining of these transition minerals are simply not taking the risks seriously enough: less than two in five companies linked to allegations of abuse have a human rights policy in place. It is within reach if companies act now to respect rights and build trust with communities and workers.”

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