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Is your phone tainted by the misery of the 35,000 children in Congo's mines?

Demand for minerals like lithium, cobalt, copper, and nickel is expanding as companies race to produce the technology needed to support the low-carbon transition, from electric vehicles to solar panels to wind turbines. Most of the world’s top companies extracting these key minerals have been linked with human rights abuses in their mines.

Analysis published by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), an international corporate watchdog, revealed that 87% of the 23 largest companies mining cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc – the six minerals essential to the renewable energy industry – have faced allegations of abuse including land rights infringements, corruption, violence or death over the past 10 years.

As the global economy switches to low-carbon technologies to combat global heating, demand for minerals could rise by as much as 900% by 2050, according to World Bank estimates. In order to prevent further human rights abuses, renewable energy companies urgently need to clean up their supply chains, said BHRRC senior researcher Eniko Horvath.

The watchdog found no correlation between the existence of a company’s human rights policy and whether such a policy prevented it from receiving allegations of abuses, indicating that the current company policies were either insufficient or not adequately enforced in their supply chains. For example, the top five lithium companies have all had human rights abuse allegations made against them, yet only one company had a publicly available policy on human rights.

BHRRC’s deputy director, Marti Flacks, said that in many of the countries where minerals are mined, weak regulation, poor enforcement and lack of rule of law have meant many companies have escaped scrutiny.

The highest number of allegations of human rights abuses took place in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the report found, where 31 allegations were recorded between 2007 and 2019. Cobalt is a key component in electric car batteries, with more than 70% of the world’s cobalt mined in DRC. Tens of thousands of artisanal miners – a large number of whom are believed to be children – face dangerous working conditions, relocations and toxic pollution, reports have found.

Copper, which is integral to wind turbines and solar panels, had the second highest number of human rights abuse allegations, said the report, with 22 allegations of human rights abuses, including harm to access to water and land rights, recorded in Zambia between 2010 and 2019.

The BHRRC has launched a tracker tool to allow investors, businesses and civil society groups to trace the allegations made against companies mining the six key minerals for the electric car, solar and wind sectors.

Washing copper ore in Congo. Photo credit: Fairphone

Source: The Guardian


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