Technology, minerals and human rights: can cobalt and lithium miners and users achieve compliance?

The urgent and genuine need to tackle climate change, coupled with commitments included in the Paris Agreement and States’ incentives, have bolstered significant investments in renewable projects. As a knock-on effect, demand for cobalt and lithium has soared. Those minerals are strategic and critical components for the production of rechargeable batteries used for renewable projects (i.e., solar panels and wind turbines), electric vehicles and electronics. As such, they are essential for the clean energy revolution.

The demand for cobalt and lithium shows no signs of slowing down. On the contrary, experts and analysts around the world agree that demand will continue to increase exponentially over the coming decade. However, companies extracting those key commodities face significant challenges in ensuring that they are sourced sustainably and in compliance with human rights. Indeed, extraction of cobalt and lithium has been associated with an undesirable environmental footprint, poor human rights records and low working standards. For example, lithium extraction projects have resulted in water shortages, pollution and abuses of indigenous communities. Similarly, cobalt mines have been linked to pollution, forced labour and child labour.

Organized by the public international law firm Volterra Fietta, this virtual seminar will provide an opportunity to discuss how States, mining companies and other stakeholders can ensure that the path towards a greener, cleaner future is compliant with human rights standards.

Date: Wednesday, April 14th 2021
Time: 3 pm (CET)
Location: Online

Event page


Prof Dorothée Baumann-Pauly, Director of the Geneva Center for Business and Human Rights at the University of Geneva and Research Director at NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Prof Robert McCorquodale, barrister and mediator at Brick Court Chambers, London, Professor of International Law and Human Rights at the University of Nottingham, and the Founder of Inclusive Law, a consultancy on business and human rights.

Jessie Cato, Programme Manager for Natural Resources & Human Rights at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.

This event will be chaired by Graham Coop, Partner at Volterra Fietta and former General Counsel to the Energy Charter Secretariat.

Examples of Topics

  1. How important are cobalt and lithium to renewables and technology companies? What (if any) substitutes are there for these minerals?

  2. What human rights issues arise as a result of cobalt and lithium mining projects?

  3. How has the legal and political context of Business and Human Rights (“BHR”) evolved in recent years?

  4. What are the risks from BHR violations for: (i) mining companies; (ii) their shareholders; (iii) their suppliers and contractors; and (iv) their customers, including intensive mineral consumers such as renewables and technology companies?

  5. What practical steps can mining companies take to mitigate BHR-related risks?

  6. What practical steps can mineral users such as technology and renewables companies take to mitigate risks arising from BHR violations in their supply chain?