Svenja Schulze, the Minister for Development, Germany recently highlighted the issues of ethical mining and the need for mine workers to have fair working conditions and are not be abused. However, the majority of “critical” minerals are being processed in China, where supply chains are rarely checked for possible forced labour or other abuses. With the help of the EU Critical Raw Materials Act, Germany and other EU states hope to secure a diverse supply of minerals while reducing their reliance on China. To determine whether new mines and other projects need government support, the Act mainly relies on certification programmes and audits. However, relying on audits or certifications is a challenge because they frequently lack rigour and transparency. The law runs the risk of encouraging destructive mining operations. Violations are already common in the mining of transitional minerals, including child labour in the cobalt industry and the infringement of the rights of indigenous peoples in the lithium industry. Nsama Chikwanka, a Zambian activist, described in detail how mining for manganese and copper has led to pollution, disease and a loss of livelihoods in Zambia during the conference1.
According to a study by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, 14 companies are responsible for two-thirds of all recorded abuses since 2010 in the mining industry, which is a small fraction of the most reputable companies in the industry. China Minmetals, Glencore, Grupo México, Codelco, Freeport McMoran, and Solway were among those mentioned. The majority of the minerals needed for the energy transition are in reserves close to or on the property of farmers and members of indigenous tribes. 49 complaints of abuse against indigenous peoples were included in the tracker, highlighting the effects of irresponsible mining on these communities’ livelihoods, customs, and right to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC)2.
Additionally, a report released on June 7, 2023 by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, an NGO, revealed that 26% of claims of human rights abuse made in 2022 involved access to or pollution of water. According to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, environmental, climate, and land defenders were the targets of 75% of physical assaults on human rights advocates between January 2015 and March 20233. Also, Chinese-owned companies in Zimbabwe have come under fire recently for egregious abuses of worker safety regulations and human rights. According to Africa Daily, the new incident of mistreatment by the Chinese mine owner has brought attention to the exploitation of locals and unethical practises used by Chinese employers in the African nation. Chinese business owners regularly accuse local employees of stealing, beat them up physically and verbally, and blatantly flout the law in addition to abusing them and the workers. Chinese mining operations in Odzi have allegedly been flagrantly violating the law in terms of health and safety, according to the Centre for Research and Development (CRD), a Manicaland-based organisation that oversees natural resources4.
China Machinery Engineering Corporation’s expansion of the Drmno coal mine in Serbia raises worries about air pollution and home safety. Finance from China has made it possible for Kostolac to increase coal output. China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) and Serbia’s electricity supplier, EPS, agreed to a deal in November 2013 for the construction of the Kostolac B3 coal power station and the expansion of the Drmno coal mine. A year later, a US$608 million concessional loan agreement for the projects was signed by the Serbian government and the state-owned China Eximbank. Regarding the transactions’ lack of transparency, a number of issues have been brought up. For instance, no EIA was undertaken to increase the Drmno mine’s production capacity, nor was a tender process for the principal contractor5.
Amnesty International revealed how a mining operation run by the Chinese multinational Haiyu likely made a significant contribution to the 2015 Nagonha flash flood, which damaged 48 homes and made 290 people homeless. The organisation also discovered that the mining operation has seriously increased the likelihood of a 1,000+ person coastal community being washed into the Indian Ocean. After the catastrophe, Mozambican authorities did not regulate the sector6.
Knowing that children are inherently risky when working in the mining industry is extremely heartbreaking. Because of the uncomfortable weights, arduous labour, unstable underground buildings, heavy tools and equipment, toxic and frequently explosive chemicals, and exposure to extreme heat and cold, it is physically hazardous.
Due to the fact that mining frequently takes place in isolated locations without access to social services such as schools and law enforcement, where there may be a lack of family and community support, and where “boom or bust” situations encourage drug and alcohol misuse as well as prostitution, it can also be morally and psychologically dangerous. For far too long, mining behemoths have gotten away with things like pollution, forcible evictions, lack of openness regarding the allocation of mining rights, corruption, tax fraud, and unfair transfer pricing. These topics need to dominate conversations. Tackling the environmental and social impacts of minerals developments will be essential, including the emissions associated with mining and processing, risks arising from inadequate waste and water management and impacts from inadequate worker safety human rights abuses (such as child labour) and corruption. Ensuring that mineral wealth brings real gains to local communities is a broad and multi- faceted challenge particularly in countries where artisanal and small-scale mines are common. Supply chain due diligence, with effective regulatory enforcement can be a critical tool to identify, assess and mitigate risks, increasing traceability and transparency.