Transition minerals sourcing and human rights

Anna Triponel

May 6, 2022
Our key takeaway: “Unless respect for human rights is embedded in mineral extraction, we will fail to ensure a just transition, putting people and planet at risk.” These are the words from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre after delving into 11 years of allegations against 103 mining companies that are mining the minerals that are essential to our transition to net zero (i.e., cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc). Human rights due diligence is falling behind. Worse: local communities and human rights defenders – the very people at the heart of ensuring a safe and secure transition – are the ones being impacted the most by companies sourcing these transition minerals.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has released its ‘Transition Minerals Tracker’ which tracks “the human rights implications of the mineral boom powering the transition to a net-zero carbon economy” (April 2022). The BHRRC also provides an analysis of human rights in the energy transition:

  • The ‘transition fueling abuse’: The BHRRC highlights that minerals (six in particular: cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc) “are required in large quantities to produce renewable energy technologies – from wind turbines and solar panels to electric vehicles and battery storage. Demand for these minerals is expanding as companies race to produce the technology needed to support the energy transition.” However, through this tracker, BHRRC finds that “mining companies’ human rights due diligence is not keeping pace with expanding exploration, increasing the risk that the transition fuels further abuse in this already troubled sector. Communities and CSOs are bearing the brunt of the abuse, with almost 2/3 of all allegations concerning human rights abuses against them.”
  • Key findings: The BHRRC lists the following as key findings from the tracker. There are “a total of 495 allegations of human rights abuse from 2010 to 2021” with 61 new allegations in 2021. “One-third of allegations represent attacks against [human rights defenders – HRDs], making this the number one impact recorded in the Tracker, followed by water pollution. One-third of attacks against HRDs are against Indigenous peoples.” When it comes to companies, the tracker delves into 103 companies, and “[o]ver two-thirds of all recorded allegations include just 12 companies, which are among the largest and most well-established of the extractive sector. This includes Grupo México, Codelco, BHP, Anglo American and Glencore.”
  • Findings per company: The tracker goes back to allegations from 2010 onwards, based on articles from international and local media outlets in a range of languages. For each allegation, the Tracker delves into where the incident took place and the kind of impacts being alleged, as well as the identity of impacted stakeholders and how the incident was brought to life. The tracker delves into a range of allegations, grouping them into the following categories: environmental impacts, impacts on local community and attacks against civil society organisations, impacts on workers, governance and transparency, security issues and conflict zones, and COVID-19 pandemic. The tracker also explores where there is overlap between the findings in this tracker, and another tracker compiled by the BHRRC which relates to attacks on human rights defenders (the Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) database), to bring to light the connections between the energy transition and HRDs.

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