The urgent and genuine need to tackle climate change, coupled with commitments included in the Paris Agreement and States’ incentives, have bolstered significant investments in renewable projects. As a knock-on effect, demand for cobalt and lithium has soared. Those minerals are strategic and critical components for the production of rechargeable batteries used for renewable projects (i.e., solar panels and wind turbines), electric vehicles and electronics. As such, they are essential for the clean energy revolution.
The demand for cobalt and lithium shows no signs of slowing down. On the contrary, experts and analysts around the world agree that demand will continue to increase exponentially over the coming decade. However, companies extracting those key commodities face significant challenges in ensuring that they are sourced sustainably and in compliance with human rights. Indeed, extraction of cobalt and lithium has been associated with an undesirable environmental footprint, poor human rights records and low working standards. For example, lithium extraction projects have resulted in water shortages, pollution and abuses of indigenous communities. Similarly, cobalt mines have been linked to pollution, forced labour and child labour.
This virtual seminar provided an opportunity to discuss how States, mining companies and other stakeholders can ensure that the path towards a greener, cleaner future is compliant with human rights standards. Among others, the following topics were discussed:
1. How important are cobalt and lithium to renewables and technology companies? What (if any) substitutes are there for these minerals?
2. What human rights issues arise as a result of cobalt and lithium mining projects?
3. How has the legal and political context of Business and Human Rights (“BHR”) evolved in recent years?
4. What are the risks from BHR violations for: (i) mining companies; (ii) their shareholders; (iii) their suppliers and contractors; and (iv) their customers, including intensive mineral consumers such as renewables and technology companies?
5. What practical steps can mining companies take to mitigate BHR-related risks?
6. What practical steps can mineral users such as technology and renewables companies take to mitigate risks arising from BHR violations in their supply chain?
Our experienced panellists were:
Prof Dorothée Baumann-Pauly, Director of the new Geneva Center for Business and Human Rights, launched in 2019 by the University of Geneva. Since 2013, she is also the Research Director at the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights. As a business ethics scholar with extensive practical experience working on the implementation of human rights in multi‑stakeholder settings, Dorothée Baumann-Pauly has published widely on topics at the intersection of business ethics, corporate responsibility, private governance mechanisms and human rights. For the last ten years, she has been teaching business and human rights related classes at academic institutions in the US and Europe including the new semester course in Business and Human Rights, part of the Bachelor in Economics and Management programme in GSEM, University of Geneva.
Prof Robert McCorquodale, barrister and mediator at Brick Court Chambers, London, Professor of International Law and Human Rights at the University of Nottingham, and the Founder of Inclusive Law, a consultancy on business and human rights. Robert has over 25 years of experience working in business and human rights. He has advised civil society, companies, governments and international organisations around the world. He has been a counsel in Lungowe v Vedanta and Okpabi v Shell, and been the advocate before the UK Supreme Court in other cases. He has also been an advocate before the International Court of Justice, and a legal expert before United Nations bodies. He has published widely in this area, including through empirical research.
Jessie Cato, Programme Manager for Natural Resources & Human Rights at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. She is responsible for coordinating the Resource Centres work related to natural resources, including leading projects on renewable energy and transition minerals. Prior to this, Jessie worked at Oxfam America coordinating their Extractive Industries Knowledge Hub, and was also previously the National Director for Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Australia.
This event was chaired by Graham Coop, Partner at Volterra Fietta and former General Counsel to the Energy Charter Secretariat. Mr Coop, who heads Volterra Fietta’s BHR practice, is qualified as a barrister and solicitor in New Zealand and as a solicitor with higher rights of audience (Civil) in England and Wales. He advises and represents companies, governments, and international organisations on business and human rights, international dispute resolution and public international law, with a particular focus on the energy, natural resources and infrastructure and banking sectors. He has appeared as counsel, advocate, and expert before a wide range of international courts and tribunals, including the International Court of Justice, ICSID, the PCA and the ICC. He is on the UK Attorney General’s list of public international law practitioners.
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