Good for planet and people? Renewable energy firms urged to clean up act on human rights

Workers walk at a solar power station in Tongchuan, Shaanxi province, China December 11, 2019. Picture taken December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Muyu Xu

BARCELONA, – Companies that produce clean energy are crucial for curbing climate change – but they’re not always the “good guys”,¬†according to a report that tracks their human rights record for the first time.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) says 16 of the world’s largest publicly-traded wind and solar producers are not doing enough to protect their workers and the local communities affected by their operations.

Here are the key takeaways:

What’s the bigger picture?

A push to use less fossil fuel and curb climate change has seen nearly $2.7 trillion invested in renewables – mainly in solar and wind power – in the past decade, and the sector employed 11 million people in 2018.

Many of the companies are seen as saviours when it comes to tackling global warming – but the same can’t be said of how they treat human rights, according to Phil Bloomer, BHRRC executive director

That is a particular concern for indigenous people whose land has in some cases been used for clean energy projects without their agreement or fair compensation.

Which companies have been assessed and what are the key results?

Spanish energy corporations Iberdrola and Acciona, followed by Denmark’s Orsted and Italy’s Enel, had the best human rights record overall, with French and German firms dominating the middle tier – but no company scores above 53% on the benchmark.

The worst performers are Chinese and North American companies, as well investors Brookfield and BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, which own many renewable projects.

Companies, on average, scored better on indicators covering the basic human rights responsibilities, including having policies and grievance mechanisms in place, similar to other high-risk industries like apparel, agricultural products and tech manufacturing.

But they scored zero across the board when it came to commitments such as respecting local land rights and relocating or compensating communities affected by renewables projects.

The companies scored well in some areas, including anti-corruption due diligence and health and safety disclosures.

So big renewable energy firms are doing the right thing for the planet but the wrong thing for people?

The centre has tracked allegations of abuse against renewables companies over the past decade, and says complaints increased 10 times between 2010 and 2018.

Since 2010, the centre has identified 197 allegations of human rights abuses related to renewable energy projects, and asked 127 companies to respond to those allegations.

They include: killings, threats, and intimidation; land grabs; dangerous working conditions and poverty wages; and harm to indigenous peoples’ lives and livelihoods.

Allegations have been made in every region and across the wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal and hydropower sectors, with the highest number in Latin America.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200701164637-rk6o4/