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Human rights issues alleged in renewable energy sector report

Sorn Sarath / Khmer Times Share:
A solar and wind energy farm in Kampong Speu province, Cambodia. Although the Kingdom has not been implicated, a report warns of health and safety issues at renewable energy sites. Supplied

The first human rights benchmark of renewable energy companies reveals serious weaknesses in industry efforts to protect workers and communities, creating risks in a sector vital to countering the climate crisis, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).

The US-based BHRRC’ s report released yesterday shows that the renewable energy industry is an indispensable part of the fight against climate breakdown and the COVID-19 pandemic has only served to reinforce the urgent need for rapid change to a more equal and sustainable global economy.

“Yet the sector’s growth has been dogged by a rise in allegations of human rights abuses – including killings, threats and land grabs – with at least 197 allegations since 2010, including around 40 in the last year,” the report said.

The new benchmark reveals policy and practice gaps the renewable energy sector must urgently address to ensure the transition to a net zero-carbon economy is both fast and fair, respecting human rights.

It  assessed 16 of the world’s largest publicly-traded wind and solar producers against human rights standards. It revealed that nearly half (seven out of 16) of the companies scored below 10 percent, with three quarters (12 out of 16) scoring below 40 percent. No companies scored above 53 percent.

The results point the way for renewable energy companies and investors to make improvements to make sure the transition to a net zero-carbon economy is both fast and fair.

However, Cambodia, which aims to expand solar energy investment up to 20 percent over the next three years, was excluded in the list by the report.

Victor Jona, director-general of the Ministry of Mines and Energy’s General Department of Energy, said that the development of clean energy has provided more benefits to people and business which so far have not affected local communities.

“We have a lot of solar energy development in Cambodia, invested by the private sector and the government has carefully studied the social impact to make sure that the project does not affect people and social-environments,” he said. Most of the land was purchased by the companies.

Jona said Cambodia will have wind power soon developed by Blue Circle in Kampot province’s Bokor mountain with price talks currently under negotiation.

“The study has been completed and we are negotiating the price of electricity, which is a sensitive issue between the company and EDC [Electricite du Cambodge,  an electrical and electronic manufacturing company located in Phnom Penh].” He said the company has offered $0.685 per kilowatt an hour. EDC has asked the company to reduce this because the government’s policy is to lower the electricity tariff every year.

According to BHRRC, four companies stood out overall, although allegations of abuse have been raised against the highest-scoring company.

On the most important indicators of companies’ basic human rights obligations, the sector’s average score was on par with other high-risk industries, such as apparel, agricultural products, extractives and information and communications technology manufacturing – suggesting more scrutiny is required of the risks in this sector.

Marti Flacks, deputy director at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, said renewable energy companies are leading the transition to a net zero-carbon economy as part of the global effort to tackle the climate crisis.

“Unfortunately, this benchmark shows the sector is falling short on human rights, especially on land rights and protecting indigenous people. This not only threatens harm to communities, but risks project delays and increased costs that could put the transition to a net zero-carbon economy in jeopardy,” he said.

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