Press Release

50 renewable energy companies’ human rights policies & records examined

Company Response Platform | Briefing | Case Studies

A fast transition to renewable energy is essential, but it will be neither fair nor sustainable for companies unless human rights considerations are at its core.

London (3 November 2016) - Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has received 115 allegations of human rights abuse regarding renewable companies since 2005 – 94 out of those allegations took place since 2010.

The Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals have spurred a welcome momentum for renewable energy investments and commitments.  However, with few exceptions our outreach to 50 companies involved in renewable energy projects with a set of questions about their human rights approach found an alarming lack of transparency, awareness and implementation of human rights responsibilities among these companies.

Our analysis of company responses revealed that 34 out of 50 companies have some commitment to consult with local communities, however these commitments vary significantly and the majority are weak or non-existent. Only 5 out of 50 refer to respecting indigenous peoples’ internationally recognised right to free, prior & informed consent (FPIC). Failing to undertake these consultations in a rigorous manner can cause project delays as well as financial, legal and reputational costs to companies. 

“It is not acceptable for any business to ignore their impacts on peoples’ land rights, security or livelihoods - the renewable energy sector is no different. The briefing prepared by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre illustrates the importance of the private sector ensuring that their actions are informed by the Principles of Climate Justice; that means taking action on climate change that respects human rights” says Mary Robinson, President of Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice and Chair of the International Advisory Network of Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

Local communities are faced with some of the most damaging impacts including dispossession of their lands, livelihoods undermined, threats and intimidation, killings, displacement, among other abuses. Many of these issues are associated with a lack of adequate human rights due diligence procedures and impact assessment, which require companies to identify and act on human rights impacts at an early stage. 

There is an alarming disconnect between companies’ policies and practice at the project site level.  Three out of the five companies that have FPIC commitments in place have faced challenges about this commitment on the ground.  One of these companies was DESA, which co-developed the Agua Zarca dam where the indigenous leader Berta Caceres was murdered in March this year after her concerted opposition of the project.

Governments and international funding mechanisms also have a significant role to play as their stamp of approval does not guarantee that projects will be free from abuse. 31 companies we reached out to had projects registered with the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism funding renewable energy projects; however 11 of these faced human rights allegations including the abuse of the right to free, prior, informed consent, right to land, and violence against communities. 

“The renewable energy sector plays an essential role in our urgent shift to a green economy. But wind and hydropower companies will not be able to drive this transformation at the expense of poor peoples’ land and livelihoods. A reputation for abuse brings huge costs in terms of conflict, suspensions and distrust. Companies should act now to radically strengthen their respect for human rights. The success of their industry, and our fast transition to a low carbon economy depend upon it,” says Phil Bloomer, Executive Director of Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

There are some companies that are moving in the right direction, however.  Recently, Statkraft and Saami villagers raising concerns about a wind farm’s impacts on reindeer herding were able to reach a final agreement, demonstrating that a fast and fair transition to renewable energy is not only possible, but essential.  Others such as Grupo Yansa only take up projects where communities are in the lead.  We need more companies to take a progressive and inclusive approach

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Media Contacts:

  • Phil Bloomer, Executive Director, bloomer [at] business-humanrights.org, +44 (20) 7636 7774
  • Eniko Horvath, Senior Researcher, horvath [at] business-humanrights.org, +44 (20) 7636 7774