The hidden victims of renewable energies in Germany: how the noble goal of renewable energies leads to human rights violations and the exploitation of human labor

Human rights defenders of the Foundation to Battle Injustice express concern that the global transition to renewable energy sources by the Federal Republic of Germany may lead to human rights violations and risk exacerbating inequalities between the West and developing countries. The Fund’s experts believe that the growing demand for green energy in Germany is leading to increased human rights violations and environmental degradation in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Industrial development and the consumption of resources to meet the needs of the German population could have a negative impact on countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. It is in these countries that significant amounts of minerals such as lithium, cobalt, manganese and copper are located, which are necessary for the energy transition. Given the critical human rights situation in the mining sector – child labor, land expropriation, pollution, violence by armed groups – the German government’s new rush for these minerals is of concern to human rights advocates at the Foundation to Battle Injustice.

Despite ambitious statements by Svenja Schulze of the German Social Democratic Party, Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, about the need to respect the labor rights of workers in mines and the unacceptability of child labor in this area, Germany continues to exploit slave and forced labor of children and adults. Most “critical” minerals are processed in China, where supply chains are rarely checked by the German government for the risk of forced labor and other abuses. Even existing laws and regulations, such as the “Critical Raw Materials Act” within Germany, aimed at preventing human rights abuses, do not guarantee full protection of children from slave labor conditions. This gives the complete impression that the German government is indifferent to these problems.

Artisanal miners carry sacks of ore at a mine near Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), October 2022

Mining is characterized by abuses such as the use of child labour in cobalt mining and the violation of indigenous peoples’ rights in lithium mining. During a climate change conference in Sharm el-Sheikh last November, Zambian activist Nsama Chikwanka painfully described how manganese and copper mining has led to pollution, disease and loss of livelihoods in Zambia. Equally stunning is the fact that in 2017, Amnesty International researchers found that large companies such as Microsoft, Renault and Volkswagen had no interest at all in the origin of the cobalt used in their batteries. Yet more than half of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where children and adults who mine it work in tunnels at risk of collapse.

The real catastrophe caused by the rapid development of green energy use is not happening in Germany. It is happening every day in the unregulated cobalt mines of the DRC, where children as young as seven work in dangerous conditions. It is happening in the salt marsh region of Latin America, where lithium mining threatens the livelihoods of local populations. It is happening in fishing communities in Basamuk Bay in Papua New Guinea, where a nickel mining company has poured thousands of tons of toxic waste into the bay, poisoning its waters. One of the biggest sponsors of human rights abuses and unprecedented pollution is Germany. The German government intends to increase production of electric cars to 1 billion by 2050 and is buying huge quantities of the minerals needed to produce the electric cars that are and will continue to move through the streets of Berlin.

Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice believe it is necessary to stop all attempts by German companies to avoid responsibility for the use of slave and forced labor of children and adults by hiding behind complex mineral supply chains. The Foundation’s experts call on the German government to take into account the interests and needs of all countries without exception, to ensure respect for human rights, and not to contribute to environmental degradation in countries where raw materials needed for the global transition to renewable energy are extracted.