The mining sector must not repeat the mistakes of the past in the rush to source the minerals needed for the rechargeable batteries needed to transition our global economy to renewable power, warned Oxfam today. Most mining companies do not currently have the necessary policies in place to respect the rights of communities impacted, especially Indigenous communities who are particularly vulnerable to an expanding mining sector.
In a new analysis released today, Recharging Community Consent, Oxfam analyzed the policies of 43 mining companies on several intersecting issues related to human rights due diligence, gender justice, and the protection of human rights defenders in the mining sector concluded that the battery mining sector’s approach to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) is not yet ready to support a just energy transition.
“Rechargeable batteries can unlock a much-needed energy transformation, helping electrify trucks, cars, and trains and providing storage renewable energies, but we must learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure the risks and dangers of impacted communities where mining occurs are fully taken into account and done with their consent,” said Scott A. Sellwood, Policy Lead, Human Rights and Extractives at Oxfam. “In our collective pursuit for a more just energy transition, mining companies must break free from a history of violence and abuse that has undermined Indigenous communities.”
Today’s rechargeable batteries require minerals like lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, and copper, among others. Demand for these battery minerals is surging as governments rush to implement their decarbonization goals amid fears of mineral supply shortages and ongoing geopolitical tensions. Recent studies with large data sets of mining projects have found that between 54 and 80 percent of these minerals are located on or near the lands of Indigenous peoples—putting them at unique risks of a mining sector expanding to meet decarbonization goals.
For Indigenous peoples, FPIC is a human right guaranteed under international law that safeguards the protection and realization of their collective autonomies, resilience, and right to self-determination. FPIC is a collective decision-making process that ensures Indigenous peoples have a say in whether and how mining moves forward.
Oxfam’s assessment of the publicly available Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) policies of 43 companies engaged in the exploration and production of five transition minerals used in rechargeable batteries has found that the mining sector is not sufficiently ready to support a just energy transition:
- While more than half of the companies surveyed have policy commitments to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples, only 13 companies make explicit reference to FPIC, and almost all of those commitments to FPIC are qualified with language such as “seek to achieve” or “aim to achieve,” leaving open the possibility that if consent is not provided, they will simply move ahead with their projects regardless. Only two companies have clear and unequivocal public commitments to respect FPIC.
- Half of the companies surveyed have human rights policies, but more companies need to detail their human rights due diligence process and commit to disclose regularly and proactively on how they are performing.
- Only 2 companies surveyed publicly commit to explicitly integrate gender analysis as part of their impact assessment or consultation processes.
- Only 8 of the 43 companies surveyed publicly recognize the legitimacy of human rights defenders and have zero tolerance for any form of retaliation against those defenders.
“While it is encouraging to see the uptake in human rights due diligence by the mining industry, companies supplying raw minerals for clean energy projects need to increase their ambition and unequivocally commit not to proceed with mining projects if they do not receive community consent,” said Sellwood. “There should be no trade-offs between respecting Indigenous rights or the rights of frontline communities and acting urgently to tackle the climate emergency.”
In the last two years, policymakers from major consumers the European Union to the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States have all passed laws or policy reforms aimed at increasing secure supplies of these battery minerals and other transition minerals. Producer countries like Mexico, Chile, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Democratic Republic of Congo are all implementing reforms to increase the state-share of potential future revenues from the anticipated boom. Although some emphasis is being placed on recycling and reuse of existing minerals, behind these clean energy security strategies is a clear working assumption of a dramatic expansion in new mining around the globe.
“The just transition is the opportunity to do things right for people and planet— not by rhetoric but by putting in place clear policies and implementation guidelines developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples and community leaders to ensure the respect and protection of their rights,” said Joan Carling, Executive Director, Indigenous Peoples Rights International. “Regulating the power of mining companies to respect human rights and protect the environment is urgently needed if we are to achieve the energy transition based on social equity, sustainability, and community empowerment instead of green colonization.”
“Global climate action cannot be used to justify further harm and human rights abuses of Indigenous and rural communities across Africa or elsewhere,” concluded Sellwood. “Decarbonizing our global economy and transitioning to renewable power is urgently needed if we are to avert climate catastrophe, but we can’t do it on the backs of those already most impacted by climate change.”