There were 102 allegations of human rights and environmental abuses linked to overseas investment by China in transition minerals projects between 2021 and 2022, according to new research from London-based non-profit the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC). These derived from direct investment in the exploration, licensing, mining and processing of nine major critical minerals: aluminium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel, rare earth elements (REEs) and zinc. 

The allegations spanned 18 countries, with the highest number coming from Asia (42%), followed by Latin America (27%) and Africa (24%). Indonesia (27) was the country with the highest number of abuses reported, followed by Peru (16), the Democratic Republic of Congo (12), Myanmar (11) and Zimbabwe (7) – five countries accounted for more than 70% of all the allegations. 

Copper was the mineral most often linked to the reported abuse (33), followed by nickel (24), and 68% of the reports comprised human rights abuses against local communities and civil society organisations. Environmental harms featured in 53% of the allegations, and workers’ rights in 35%.

“China has shown commitment to the green energy transition by pledging to stop building coal power plants overseas and through Chinese companies’ significant investment in transition minerals necessary for the globe’s net-zero ambitions,” said a BHRRC spokesperson in a press statement. “However, this is overshadowed by the serious human rights risks associated with their overseas business operations.

“Our data shows human rights and environmental abuse is prevalent in the exploration, extraction and processing of transition minerals. Local communities are bearing the brunt of these abuses, with their livelihoods being affected, land rights being ignored and the erosion of Indigenous rights. 

“Most companies don’t even have human rights policies in place, and those that do were linked to the highest number of allegations, indicating significant need for improvement when it comes to both policy and practice. Given their vital role in energy sectors globally, Chinese actors are well placed to lead a responsible energy transition. However, this can only be achieved if Chinese businesses and regulators take proactive measures to address endemic human rights and environmental abuses linked to transition minerals.”

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