Clean tech faces increasing risks with mining tied to new abuses

Cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Image by Fairphone, Flickr).

Investors in clean technology face a growing list of risks via the supply chains feeding such products, according to a study by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre’s Transition Minerals Tracker.

The report, which is updated annually, adds to data on the human rights implications of mining six minerals key to the energy transition, namely cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc. The Business & Human Rights group said Wednesday that it identified 65 new allegations of human rights abuse since the end of 2022, “bringing the total number of abuses recorded since 2010 up to a staggering 510.”

The findings come as Europe works to pass a milestone piece of legislation that would hold companies — including financial corporations — accountable for violations up and down their value chains. The Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive has just made its way through the European Parliament and is now headed for the European Council amid intense lobbying from numerous interest groups to water down its final wording.

The building blocks needed to expand wind, solar and electric-vehicle production will require considerably more minerals and metals than combustion-powered technology. The World Bank has estimated that by mid-century, the amount of raw materials necessary for the green transition will soar 500%. And with new legislation such as the US Inflation Reduction Act turbo-charging demand for clean tech, that pressure is set to soar.

Some responsible investor groups are already starting to sound the alarm, as cash ostensibly allocated to save the environment, ends up having dire social consequences.

The Business & Human Rights group said corruption is a growing problem in the field of transition mineral mining, which it found is “often linked to human rights abuses.” Yet “less than half of the companies associated with allegations of abuse in 2022 have human rights policies in place,” the group said.

“It is critical that emerging legislation on securing global mineral supply chains, such as the Critical Raw Materials Act, ensure mining companies clean up their acts,” Heidi Hautala, vice president of the European Parliament, said in a statmenet attached to the report. It is “equally crucial” that steps are taken “to curb demand for new minerals to reduce pressure on local communities in resource-rich countries,” she said.

(By Frances Schwartzkopff)


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