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Press Release

30 Apr 2024

Eastern Europe & Central Asia emerges as new hotspot for transition minerals – but extraction in the region is plagued by abuses

As the Western world turns away from dependence on Russia and China, new data raises concerns about transition mineral mining and processing in EECA countries.

Previously neglected in global analyses of transition minerals, Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region is becoming a new hotspot for transition mineral extraction and supply – primarily due to abundant reserves of these minerals now critical to a fast transition to clean energy. However, a new report published today (30 April 2024) revealed more than 400 allegations of abuse were linked to the development, extraction and processing of 20 transition minerals in the region between 2019 and 2023 – with workers and communities the most affected. 

Published by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, the report looks at the human rights and environmental abuses linked to transition minerals in the EECA region and points to a total of 421 allegations of abuse across 16 countries: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. The research points to the urgent need for significant changes in the EECA mining sector if countries are to achieve a fast and fair energy transition.

Key findings from the research included: 

  • Russia was the country associated with the highest number of allegations of abuse (112). This was followed by Armenia (51), Ukraine (47), Georgia (36) and Kazakhstan (35).
  • Copper was the mineral associated with the highest number (151) of allegations of abuse, which constituted 36% of all allegations. It was followed by zinc (102), silver (97), lead (88) and iron (45).
  • Those most affected by allegations of abuse were workers (185 allegations) and communities (178 allegations).
  • Occupational health and safety violations was the top human rights impact associated with transition mineral mining in the region, accounting for 64% of all impacts on workers.
  • Workplace deaths were associated with 28% of allegations impacting workers, with 52 recorded allegations, while workplace injuries (18%) were also a major concern.
  • Labour rights issues were also a concerning impact (20%), which included, among other issues, unpaid and underpaid wages, access to information about terms of work contracts, workplace discrimination, long working hours and violations of freedom of association.
  • Communities were mostly affected by environmental impacts. Water pollution accounted for 29% of all impacts on communities, closely followed by air pollution (27%) and soil pollution (22%).
  • Eight out of the top 10 companies with the highest numbers of allegations are owned by oligarchs.

The demand for transition minerals from this region is being further driven by major consumers in the EU, who are dependent on other countries to obtain transition minerals necessary to meet their climate goals. With the EU’s demand estimated to increase, the region is looking to overcome its dependence on China and Russia by seeking sustainable supply from other countries. The EU has already signed strategic partnerships with two countries in the EECA region (Ukraine and Kazakhstan), as well as initiated negotiations on a strategic partnership with Uzbekistan. Given the vast reserves of transition minerals in other EECA countries, more partnership agreements are expected to be signed in the region soon.

However, concerns have already been raised about issues relating to these partnerships – including lack of transparency and consultation with local communities and NGOs, as well as insufficient human rights protection safeguards and responsible business conduct requirements.

Ella Skybenko, Senior Researcher for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre: “While we can all agree the rapid transition to clean energy is essential for the survival of our planet, it is extremely concerning to see this happening at the cost of further harm to human rights and the environment. Our research exposes the scale and severity of human rights abuses and environmental damage caused by mining and processing transition minerals in EECA. The companies responsible for this must no longer be able to enjoy impunity.

“A just transition to clean energy must centre on three core principles: shared prosperity, human rights and social protection, and fair negotiations. Disappointingly, in the EECA region, all three of these principles are currently missing when it comes to transition minerals project development, extraction and processing. There is an urgent need to transform existing business models in the EECA extractive sector if we are to ensure the transition to clean energy is just and sustainable – and does not come at the expense of people and the environment.”

// ENDS 

Notes to editors: 

  • Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts of companies across the globe.
  • This research is based on publicly reported allegations of environmental and human rights abuses related to companies extracting and processing (smelting & refining) transition minerals in the EECA region.
  • The report is available English, Russian and Ukrainian here.

Media contact: Priyanka Mogul, Senior Communications Officer (Media/PR), Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, [email protected]