- A report from Oxfam looks at companies extracting “transition minerals” for use in rechargeable batteries, a major player in the fight against climate change.
- Many of the companies have flawed or lacking standards for negotiating with local and Indigenous communities, who often don’t have the power to reject mining projects that have negative environmental impacts.
- The report urged companies to publicly commit to respecting the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples and to document the results of all community engagements.
Rechargeable batteries have an important role to play in the fight against climate change, especially when it comes to lowering greenhouse gas emissions through the transition to electric vehicles. It’s one reason the rechargeable battery market is expected to grow to over $180 billion by 2030.
But the transition minerals that go into those batteries — cobalt, copper, graphite, lithium and nickel — have to be mined from somewhere, which can create its own problems. Most of them are found in or around Indigenous communities that oppose mining because of public health concerns and impacts on the environment.
Many of the companies leading renewable energy development are also overlooking those issues, according to a new report from Oxfam. They haven’t developed adequate standards for protecting Indigenous communities and environmental defenders.
“While large-scale mining has the potential to provide economic benefits in the form of taxes and jobs, the sector remains linked to major human rights abuses, gender-based violence, environmental harm, corruption and political capture,” the report said.
The main problem has to do with flawed or lacking standards for Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), a human rights principle in which Indigenous and local people should not only be given the details about how development will impact their land and way of life, but also have the power to approve or reject a project.
Of the 43 companies working on “transition minerals” reviewed in the report, 16 make no mention at all of Indigenous peoples’ rights in their mining policies. Ten include some mention of Indigenous people but use loose or vague language that suggests the projects would move forward even if communities didn’t give their approval.
Eight of the 43 companies mention commitments to protecting human rights defenders.
Only two companies in the report — Albemarle and Vale — have made clear public commitments to respecting Indigenous communities’ ability to consent to or reject mining projects. Albemarle is a U.S. mining company with operations in Australia and Chile. Vale is a Brazilian mining company with operations in Brazil, Canada and Indonesia.
“Experience has shown that communities are bearing the brunt of the impacts of these projects without experiencing significant economic benefits,” Emily Greenspan, the Associate Director of Oxfam America’s Extractive Industries team, said at a presentation of the report. “This is particularly true for women and marginalized communities.”
The report pointed to a case in Coroccohuayco, Peru, where Swiss mining company Glencore planned to expand the Antapaccay-Tintaya copper mine. Although the company claimed to carry out transparent negotiations with local communities, some residents said it didn’t always share relevant information about the project, most notably environmental and social impacts. As a result, residents went into negotiations not fully understanding what would happen to their land if the mine expanded.
Glencore told Mongabay it tries to ensure Indigenous peoples are consulted about new and changing projects “where significant negative impacts are likely to occur.”
Governments need to pass laws requiring strict FPIC guidelines for companies involved in the mining of transition minerals, the Oxfam report said. The companies themselves need to publicly commit to respecting the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples while documenting the results of all community negotiations.
It also said companies can go above and beyond by leveraging their influence, speaking out against threats on environmental defenders and the implementation of legal reforms that restrict residents’ ability to protest mining projects.
Lastly, it urged investors to only back mining companies that have committed to FPIC and have a detailed plan for implementing those standards.
“Mining companies can play a crucial role in advancing a just transition by finally transforming the way they do business by respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, protecting the environment and adopting sustainable and responsible mining practices,” said Joan Carling, a Filipino activist for Indigenous and environmental rights.
Banner image: Lithium pools in Salinas Grandes, Argentina. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.
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