Study finds renewable energy sector is falling short on human rights

June 29, 2020

The renewable energy sector is expected to play a leading role in the fight against climate change, however, in a report from Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, the renewable energy sector’s 16 leading firms, none are currently fully meeting their responsibility to respect human rights, as defined by the UN Guiding Principles.

Of the 16 largest publicly traded solar and wind companies assessed against the new Renewable Energy and Human Rights benchmark, not one was found to be respecting land rights, and only one has a public commitment on indigenous rights. Nearly half the companies benchmarked (7/16) scored below 10 percent, with three quarters (12/16) scoring below 40 percent. The average score was just 22 percent, indicating that, as a whole, the industry has a long way to go to demonstrate its respect for the human rights of communities and workers in their operations and supply chains.

The past year, the sector has faced about 40 allegations of human rights abuse and in the past decade it has faced nearly 200 allegations of human rights abuse, including killings and threats and land grabs.

On the "most important indicators" of basic human rights obligations, the average score for the sector was akin to that of other high-risk industries such as apparel, agriculture products, extractives and ICT manufacturing.

However, despite the poor showing, good practice can be found in the sector, including a wind farm in Mexico owned by the indigenous community, a wind farm project in South Africa that consulted with local communities about jobs and part-ownership, and wind and solar projects in Canada owned by indigenous groups.

The benchmark is composed of 13 core indicators from the Corporate Human Rights benchmark to assess companies against the UNGP, along with a further 19 indicators developed specifically in relation to the renewable energy industry.

Marti Flacks, deputy director, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: "Renewable energy companies are leading the transition to a net zero-carbon economy as part of the global effort to tackle the climate crisis.

"Unfortunately, this benchmark shows the sector is falling short on human rights, especially on land rights and protecting indigenous people. This not only threatens harm to communities, but risks project delays and increased costs that could put the transition to a net zero-carbon economy in jeopardy.

"These results point the way for renewable energy companies and investors to make improvements to make sure the transition to a net zero-carbon economy is both fast and fair. The best way they can do this is by carrying out human rights due diligence to prevent, identify and mitigate risks throughout their operations and supply chains.

"Best practice exists and should be followed."

 

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