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Net-zero minerals linked to human rights abuses by leading global miners

The Responsible Minerals Initiative has separately revised its due diligence framework.

Hundreds of alleged human rights abuses have been linked to companies extracting minerals essential for the energy transition including cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc, researchers have claimed.

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) tracked a total of 495 allegations of human rights abuse from 2010 to 2021. More than two-thirds of the complaints were lodged against major mining companies including BHP, Grupo Mexico, Codelco, Anglo American and Glencore.

Local communities, civil society organisations and their leaders were found to be the most common targets of abuse, the NGO said, accounting for 64 percent of these allegations.

Jessie Cato, who leads the natural resource programme at BHRRC, warned that a refusal to consult with local communities could cause significant reputational and legal damages to mining companies, and result in delays to projects.

“Companies involved in the extraction of transition minerals must urgently recognise the vital role local communities play – and switch to a human rights-focused business model to extraction. Unless they begin consulting with local communities, we run a real risk of failing to achieve the energy transition in the small window of time still available, putting people and the planet at risk,” she said.

The UN estimates that more than 370 million indigenous peoples living in over 90 countries are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of commercial development and business activities due to their proximity to natural resources.

BHRRC’s database can be accessed here.

It comes as the Responsible Minerals Initiative (RMI), which represents companies that rely on mineral supply chains, announced a revision of its flagship protocol for human rights and environmental due diligence.

The framework comprises a Risk Readiness Assessment (RRA) and complementary Criteria Guide, which sets 32 ESG best practice criteria in metals mining, smelting, refining and manufacturing, and guidance on their application. It is applied on a voluntary basis and is available to members as well as upstream and midstream companies (smelters, refiners, and mining).

This is the first time that the framework has been updated in five years following its 2017 publication. The RMI is an industry body with some 400 member companies, and is an initiative of the Responsible Business Alliance. A consultation on the revised framework will run until 1 July.

The well-regarded IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining is another alternative to the RMI RRA and provides the only third-party certification of “industrial-scale mine sites”. It is due to be revised later this year.