Transition Minerals Tracker: 2022 Analysis (BHRRC)

Anna Triponel

June 9, 2023
Our key takeaway: Climate action is inextricably linked to positive and negative human rights impacts. Transition minerals, used in renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles, is a key example of how ‘doing good’ for the environment does not necessarily translate to ‘doing good’ for people; in some situations, it can even exacerbate human rights abuses. Mining operations disproportionately threaten human rights and environmental defenders (HRED), Indigenous Peoples and local communities by encroaching on their land, their livelihoods, and their right to Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) by not being consulted on the development of mining operations. Even though attacks against marginalised groups have increased, so too has scrutiny on companies. Drivers for this heightened scrutiny include communities saying ‘no’ to energy transitions that do not protect their human rights, HRED’s successful campaigns in holding companies accountable, and growing global recognition that companies must address their human rights impacts. So what can companies do?  Consider the impact of climate action through a human rights lens is critical. Conduct human rights and environmental due diligence that places rights holders at the centre. Involve rights holders in the co-creation of mining projects that benefits local communities. As Mutuso Dhliwayo, Executive Director, Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA), states: “Responsible extraction, centring the rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and vulnerable workers, is the only way to ensure a transition that is fair, so that it can also be fast.”

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre released the Transition Minerals Tracker: 2022 Analysis (June 2023):

  • The connection between transition minerals and human rights and environmental abuses: The report’s findings highlights how transition mineral mining have a significant impact on people and planet. Notably, how the green energy transition can impact the human rights of those working in the transition minerals value chain and the local communities surrounding such activities. Indeed, between 2010 and 2022, there were 510 allegations of human rights abuses related to the mining of key minerals related to the sustainable energy transition - cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc. 133 attacks, including 13 killings were directed against human rights defenders (HRDs) who are at the forefront of protecting the land they live on. In addition, 65 new cases were recorded in 2022, “including widespread violations of environmental, land and Indigenous Peoples’ rights, coupled with an increase in corruption cases.” The report also finds a growing number of corruption cases linked to human rights abuses in the transition mineral mining sector. In short, tackling the climate and nature crisis means tackling the human rights abuses that flow from such actions. We cannot tackle one crisis without tackling the other; a just transition is fundamental to a sustainable energy transition.
  • HRDs, Indigenous Peoples, and local communities are among the most affected by the sector: The report highlights how marginalised groups are disproportionately impacted by the growth of the transition minerals sector: i) 133 attacks were directed against HRDs between 2010 and 2022, with 13 new attacks on HRDs recorded for 2022 alone. This demonstrates how “mining remains the most dangerous sector for those voicing community concerns over irresponsible business conduct”; and ii) “49 allegations of recorded abuse were associated with Indigenous Peoples’ rights, including 25 allegations of violations of either their rights to FPIC” and/or their land rights. While the data paints a bleak picture, we do see glimmers of action and hope from rights holders and communities. For instance, HRDs have successfully advocated for new laws protecting people and planet: “HRDs in Sierra Leone successfully advocated for a ground-breaking new law protecting customary land rights, recognising women’s land rights and banning industrial development in protected and ecologically sensitive areas.” This has led to more stringent regulation of the mining sector: “Sierra Leone became the first country to mandate community consent for future mining projects.”
  • What can companies do now? The report provides key recommendations on how companies, particularly those working in the transition minerals sector, can tackle this issue. Companies should: i) “Assign clear Board responsibility for and oversight of respect for human and environmental rights”; ii) “Implement human rights and environmental due diligence in operations and supply chains, alongside access to remedy, built on worker and community engagement that is safe and inclusive”; iii) “Respect and publicly report on inclusive consultation and implementation of FPIC principles for Indigenous Peoples, prior to taking investment and operational decisions, followed by joint interrogation of shared asset models, for which communities and workers are well-advised”; and iv) “Develop decarbonisation and just transition plans to deliver good jobs and co-benefit in consultation with democratic representatives and rightsholders.”

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