Global Renewable Energy industry lacks human rights and labour rights protections

Renewable energy BHRRC cover part 2London-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) released a new report on September 5th : Renewable Energy Risking Rights & Returns: An analysis of solar, bioenergy & geothermal companies’ human rights commitments  . The report analyses 59 companies’ human rights policies and practices on five key areas: human rights commitment, community consultations, grievance mechanisms, labour rights and supply chain monitoring. It concludes that  “The current level of commitment by the majority of renewable energy companies is insufficient to prevent, address and mitigate human rights harms, especially as the sector rapidly expands.”

Concerning labour rights, only 36% of renewable energy companies were found to have policies committing them to core labour rights such as collective bargaining and freedom of association, 42% commit to  the prohibition of child labour and 41% to prohibition of  forced labour and modern slavery.  An aspect with resonance for Canadians, in light of the recent federal Court of Appeal decision against the Trans Mountain Pipeline, the report found that “less than 30% (17 out of 59) of renewable energy companies have a stated commitment to consultation with communities affected by their projects. Only 8 companies reference indigenous peoples’ rights and 4 companies have a commitment to free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities.”  Overall,  47% of companies do not have basic human rights commitments or processes in place, and only 5 companies met a set of basic criteria on human rights, community consultation and access to remedy. These findings are consistent with a previous BHRRC  survey, reported in 2016.

Based  on its extensive research of the mining industry, BHRRC also states that “failure to respect human rights can result in project delays, legal procedures and costs for renewable energy companies, underlying the urgency to strengthen human rights due diligence.”   It calls for investors to step up their engagement in renewable energy companies to ensure better respect for human rights.

Read the press release here  for a summary of the report, and explore ongoing monitoring of human rights in the renewable energy sector here.

Case studies of Community and human rights impacts of Renewable energy companies, and a ranking of multinationals in Ag/Food, Apparel and Mining

renewable energy investor briefing coverAn April 2017 report from the London-based advocacy group,  Business and Human Rights Resource Centre asks,  “What adverse impacts can renewable energy projects have on communities around the world?”   Renewable Energy investor briefing: Managing risks & responsibilities for impacts on local communities  (April 2017) is directed at financial and investment professionals who are considering investment in renewable energy projects- in this report, comprised of wind and small-to-medium hydro, but excluding solar .  It starts from the premise that Just Transition principles are essential, then explains the international human rights responsibilities of companies.  The report also provides examples of the kinds of questions that should be asked in shareholder meetings and before investment decisions are made, and gives examples of best practice policies – for example, inclusion of community benefits agreements.  One of the main issues it discusses is the right to free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples, which is an ongoing topic monitored by the BHRC.

The report provides case studies, including  six positive examples, including: the Ixtepec community-owned wind project in Mexico; the Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm in South Africa; and  a cluster of wind projects in Jämtland, Sweden, for which OECD guidelines are being used in negotiations between the company and affected Indigenous people.  The full suite of case studies is presented in a searchable database which allows searching by company name, issue, country, and more.  There are no Canadian projects included in the 2017 report, although a profile of Ontario Power Generation  is available as part of the Centre’s ongoing database  of human rights in the energy sector  .

In March 2017, the Centre also launched an updated and expanded  Corporate Human Rights Benchmark website , which ranked 98 of the world’s largest publicly traded companies, from the  Agriculture, Apparel, and Extractive industries. The Benchmark is intended to drive a “race to the top” and is directed at business, government, and “ to empower civil society, workers, communities, customers, and the media with better public information to reward, encourage, and promote human rights advances by companies and make well-informed choices about which companies to engage with.”  A 50 page summary report is here .  There are six thematic measurement categories, including “ Company Performance: Human Rights Practices”  which  includes rankings related to living wage, freedom of association and right to bargain collectively, health and safety, amongst others.

Two years after Rana Plaza – the Fashion Industry hangs its hat on Greening, not Labour Rights

On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,134 people and injuring thousands more. Two  years later, according to a report, by Human Rights Watch, working conditions and labour rights are unchanged. However, the garment industry is working to burnish its public image on sustainability issues. The recently-released H&M Conscious Action Sustainability Report 2014, discusses “the challenges” in the industry, which they identify as “Clean water, climate change, textile waste and wages and overtime in supplier factories”. But  in a press release titled, “H&M’s sustainability promises will not deliver a living wage” (Apr. 9) the Clean Clothes Campaign states: “Despite announcing partnership projects with the ILO, education schemes alongside Swedish trade unions, and fair wage rhetoric aplenty, H&M has so far presented disappointingly few concrete results that show progress towards a living wage. H&M are working hard on gaining a reputation in sustainability, but the results for workers on the ground are yet to be seen”. The Clean Clothes Campaign is an alliance of trade unions and NGOs in 16 European countries.

 H&M, along with Target, Gap, and Levi Strauss, has been commended by the Clean by Design program of the National Resource Defense Council for their progress in incorporating environmental performance in their procurement decisions. In April, NRDC also released The Textile Industry Leaps forward with Clean by Design: Less Environmental Impact with Bigger Profits which describes the extent of the pollution in textile mills in China, and highlights  the mills which made operational improvements and achieved the most cost savings, chiefly through increased motor and lighting efficiency, process water reuse, and heat recovery from exhaust.

A Strategy for the U.S. to Lead the Global Green Industrial Revolution

On December 10th, the BlueGreen Alliance, the Institute for America’s Future, and the Center for American Progress released The Green Industrial Revolution and the United States: In the Clean Energy Race, Is the United States a Leader or a Luddite? The report acknowledges and summarizes the strong U.S. position in clean energy development, and proposes to exert a competitive advantage over its closest rivals, China and Germany, by innovating from the state and local levels “up”, combining regional  policies that work into a national energy strategy that is based on “an integrated set of regional energy strategies. “Citing the examples of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), and the currently uncertain Production Tax Credit program for wind energy projects, the report charges that “U.S. clean energy policies have been time limited, underfunded, and politically charged.” The strategy argues that the relatively small U.S. Department of Commerce should take the lead: “With solid leadership and increased capacity, Commerce could be the central department ensuring that energy programs out of the Department of Energy, environmental programs out of the Environmental Protection Agency, and workforce training and standards programs out of the Department of Labor, all work together to support regionally specific economic development plans that will help America consolidate global leadership in the green industrial revolution.” BlueGreen earlier released a Policy Statement calling for a state-level Clean Energy Transition Fund, to first and foremost, “ensure that displaced workers from closing power plants and affected fossil fuel extraction sites receive transition support, including wages, benefits, and retraining.”

BlueGreen has also launched a Repair America campaign, urging investment in infrastructure building and repair; a report about job creation potential in Minnesota was released on December 11th to launch the campaign. The Repair America theme will also be reflected in the Good Jobs Green Jobs 2014 conference in Washington, D.C. in February 2014.

LINKS

The Green Industrial Revolution and the United States: In the Clean Energy Race, Is the United States a Leader or a Luddite? is available at: http://www.bluegreenalliance.org/news/publications/document/GreenIndustrialRev.pdf

BlueGreen Policy Statement for a Clean Energy Transition Fund is at: http://www.bluegreenalliance.org/news/publications/Clean-Energy-Transition-vFINAL.pdf

Repair Minnesota: Creating Good Jobs While Preparing Our Systems for Climate Change is available at: http://www.bluegreenalliance.org/news/publications/repair-minnesota. For Good Jobs Green Jobs 2014 conference information, see: http://www.greenjobsconference.org/.

Worldwide Case Studies of Decent Green Jobs Show the Need for Strong Policy Support

A special issue of the International Journal of Labor Research, dated 2012 but just released in 2013, provides case studies of green jobs in Korea, South Africa, the EU, and a chapter on “Working Conditions in ‘Green Jobs’: Women in the Renewable Energy Sector”, by researchers from the European WiRES project. From the Journal’s Forward:”While these results remain very partial, this should be seen as an important reminder that “green” employment is not decent by definition and that in any other sector, green jobs require careful stewardship from public authorities to ensure that workers are able to exercise their rights. …Indeed, government subsidies and procurement to encourage the shift to a greener environment should be attached to strict clauses protecting the rights to freedom of association and to bargain collectively and ensuring decent minimum conditions for workers.”  

LINK 

Are Green Jobs Decent? In the International Journal of Labor Research (2012) v. 4 #2, published by the International Labor Organization at: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_dialogue/—actrav/documents/publication/wcms_207887.pdf