Humanists for Social Justice and Environmental Action supports Human Rights, Social and Economic Justice, Environmental Activism and Planetary Ethics in North America & Globally, with particular reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other Human Rights UN treaties and conventions listed above.


As cobalt demand booms, companies must do more to protect Congolese miners

As cobalt demand booms, companies must do more to protect Congolese miners

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the major source of some of the minerals used to manufacture components in household appliances, mobile phones, electric vehicles and jewellery.
The mineral extraction industry is the backbone of the Congolese economy. Copper and cobalt, which is a by-product of copper, accounts for 85% of the country’s exports. Because of the huge mineral deposits available in the country, it is often the only sourcing option for companies.
Cobalt is an essential mineral for the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, laptops and smart phones. It offers the highest energy density and is key for boosting battery life.
The Katanga region in the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo is home to more than half of the world’s cobalt resources, and over 70% of the current cobalt production worldwide takes place in the country. Demand for cobalt is projected to surge fourfold by 2030 in pace with the electric vehicle boom.
However, mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo is risky because of the prevalence of artisanal small-scale mining. Artisanal mining is often carried out by hand, using basic equipment. It’s a largely informal and labour-intensive activity on which more than two million Congolese miners depend for income.
And this mining method comes with major human rights risks such as child labour and dangerous working conditions. Fatal accidents in unsafe tunnels occur frequently. And there are detailed reports such as the one by Amnesty International on the prevalence of child labour in these operations.
Because artisanal miners frequently extract cobalt illegally on industrial mining sites, human rights issues cannot be excluded from industrial production. Artisanally mined cobalt also often gets mixed with the industrial production when it is sold to intermediaries in the open market. Typically, it is then shipped to refineries in China for further processing and then sold to battery manufacturers around the world. In this complex supply chain, separating, tracking and tracing artisanally mined cobalt is almost impossible.
International human rights organisations have flagged human rights abuses, putting pressure on multinational corporations that buy Congolese cobalt. In response to these pressures, some automotive and electronics companies are currently not sourcing cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo because they want to avoid tainting their brand image.
But that strategy won’t work for long, as no other country will be able to satisfy the rising demand for cobalt. The production of other cobalt-exporting countries such as Russia, Canada, Australia and the Philippines accounts for less than 5% of the global production.
How companies in the cobalt supply chain can source responsible cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo amid these human rights risks is a question worth exploring. We address this question in a recent study, in which we suggest companies should acknowledge the need for common standards for responsibly mined cobalt.

Currently, there is no common understanding of what “responsible” artisanal cobalt should entail. The quest for responsible mineral sourcing is not a cobalt-specific challenge. The Congolese mining code establishes certain basic standards such as the prohibition of miners under the age of 18. There are also requirements to register as an artisanal miner and become a member of a mining cooperative.
One approach towards common standards is to mount “artisanal and small-scale mining formalisation projects”. The few existing projects establish rules for the mining site that are defined and enforced by the project partners. These usually consist of cooperatives, mine operators and buyers.
One of us visited two active formalisation projects in Kolwezi in Katanga province. Based on the observations during the September 2019 visit, we believe that formalisation is a viable path to making artisanal mining safe and fair.
Formalisation works because operational measures are put in place to mitigate safety risks. For example, the extraction is supervised by mining engineers. Also, the project site is fenced off and has exit and entry controls. This ensures that no underage, pregnant or drunk miners can work on site.
But for formalisation projects to yield “responsible” artisanal cobalt, common standards and consistent enforcement are necessary. Currently, formalisation means different things in different sites.
National standards for mine safety exist, but they need to be enforced uniformly. Where current standards fall short of reassuring buyers, further measures need to be developed by a consortium of the key players. This should involve mining cooperatives, concession holders, the government, civil society organisations, and other companies along the battery supply chain.
The 2018 amendments to the mining code introduced a legal basis for the subcontracting of artisanal miners by industrial mining companies. In January 2020, the Congolese government created an entity that will oversee artisanal and small-scale mining activities. These are positive steps.
The development of artisanal mining standards through a process involving key players needs to build on and strengthen these existing national laws and strategies. Furthermore, private actors should support government efforts by identifying parameters and means of evaluation to ensure the consistent enforcement of these standards. A discussion about responsible sourcing strategies and practices is indispensable for all brands that care about the human rights implications of their operations.

To illustrate how a multi-stakeholder discussion over responsible sourcing standards translates into practice, we can examine tunnel construction to extract the ores underground at artisanal and small-scale mining sites.
The first issue is whether tunnels should be allowed at all or whether responsible artisanal cobalt should take place exclusively from open pits. Open pits are considered significantly safer. If only open pits are considered responsible, who will pay for the earth-moving machines needed to create open pits?  If tunnels are allowed, how deep can they be? While relevant mining regulations limit tunnel depth to 30 metres and tunnel inclination to 15%, international buyers of cobalt do not consider this safe.  Given that horizontal tunnel construction is particularly dangerous, should horizontal tunnels be banned entirely from sites? If tunnels are permitted, should miners receive training on construction safety, and if so, who will pay for these programmes?
These processes and regulations must be standardised and widely adopted. Only when this happens will automotive and electronics companies be reassured that they are not contributing to human rights violations. And only then will they feel confident buying Congolese cobalt.


Environmental Defence Canada - Blue box targets too low

Environmental Defence Canada
The Ontario government is proposing amendments to the Blue Box program. But the draft regulation misses the mark – especially when it comes to plastics. Without serious reform, the proposed regulation will mean more of the same: growing amounts of plastic pollution in our landfills, rivers, and parks. We can’t let that happen.
The draft Blue Box regulation proposes to shift the cost and management of the recycling program from municipalities to producers. This policy approach is called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and is a step in the right direction. 
But EPR is only effective when high, material specific recycling targets are established and enforced. Without high targets and strict penalties, companies aren’t incentivized to make the kinds of investments needed to improve recycling in Ontario.
The draft regulation includes dismal plastic recycling targets. In 2030 producers will still be sending 60 per cent of their plastic bags, films, and pouches to landfills and incinerators; and 40 per cent of their plastic bottles, tubs, and jars. This is unacceptable.
Reforming the Blue Box program is a huge opportunity to clean up Ontario’s plastic waste. But the province’s proposal is a miss. Fortunately, you still have a chance to help the province get it right. 


Take action today! Tell Ontario to fix its draft Blue Box regulation and make one that puts the environment first.


Your letter will be sent to: Hon. Jeff Yurek , Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
CC'd: Jamelia Alleyne, Senior Policy Analyst and your MPP

MZOs: Help stop Ontario from bulldozing nature - David Suzuki Foundation

Help stop Ontario from bulldozing nature - David Suzuki Foundation:

Help stop Ontario from bulldozing nature The Government of Ontario is moving ahead in its frenzy to get rid of environmental protect

The Government of Ontario is moving ahead in its frenzy to get rid of environmental protection rules.

It recently overrode a mechanism to protect provincially significant wetlands (PSWs) in Vaughan by allowing, under a minister’s zoning order (MZO), three PSWs to be destroyed for a new Walmart distribution center. It also approved the destruction of a large, rare coastal PSW in Pickering, to make way for the construction of a warehouse. More than 30 MZOs have been issued this year.

Conservation authorities (CAs) have the mandate to ensure conservation, restoration and responsible management of Ontario’s water, land and natural habitats. They play a critical role at the municipal level as storehouses of in-depth knowledge and data about local watersheds, and by managing ecological services delivered to municipal residents.

The Pickering CA did not agree to the permit needed for the warehouse development. Now the province is taking aim at their ability of CAs to safeguard regional ecosystems.

Stripping conservation authorities’ decision-making ability drastically increases developers’ free rein in the province.

Please take a moment to let the province know that:

  • The use of MZOs to derail protection measures must be stopped; 
  • Recently issued MZOs that do so must be revoked; and 
  • Conservation authorities must maintain their current powers. 
Petition at the link above.


CBC Tandem must be cancelled

The CBC's credibility is not for sale!
A few months ago, the CBC announced the launch of Tandem, its new branded content initiative. "Branded content" is a euphemism for secret advertising: articles, podcasts, and other programming that look and feel like CBC content but are actually bought and paid-for by private companies.

Tandem will hinder Canadians' trust in our public broadcaster. We have to stop it.

Now more than ever, we need a trustworthy, dependable CBC to bring us news and entertainment that serve our interest – that is, the public interest. Big Tech platforms like Facebook sell us out to advertisers all day every day. The CBC should be a citizens' oasis from such predatory commercialization. Tandem puts that oasis at risk.

We know times are tough. The pandemic has hit the CBC hard, and government support for our public broadcaster is woefully insufficient. But sponsored content is not an acceptable answer to the CBC's problems. We can't save the CBC by killing its soul.

Please join us and hundreds of current and past CBC employees by telling the CBC's Board to drop Tandem now. Sign our letter.


Retain the Current Mandate of the Province’s 36 Conservation Authorities | Conservation Authorities Under Fire

Retain the Current Mandate of the Province’s 36 Conservation Authorities | Conservation Authorities Under Fire:
On November 5th, the Government of Ontario revealed its plans to severely curtail the role of Conservation Authorities in watershed planning and management. Schedule 6 of omnibus Budget Bill 229 proposes numerous changes to the Conservation Authorities Act (CAA) that will undermine efforts to conserve biodiversity and build community resilience to climate change.
 The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) has prepared a preliminary analysis of Schedule 6, outlining the proposed changes and their implications. Among the key concerns identified are: Narrowing of the scope and powers of Conservation Authorities, impeding the achievement of the overall purpose of the CAA, which is to “provide for the organization and delivery of programs and services that further the conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources in watersheds in Ontario;”
Restricting the duties of Conservation Authorities’ members so that they no longer must act to further the watershed-based mandates of the Conservation Authorities, but rather can act only on behalf of the narrower interests of their respective municipalities; Reducing the ability of Conservation Authorities to act as independent public bodies in land use planning, including removing their ability to seek to appeal municipal planning decisions; Introducing new rights for developers to force fast-tracking of development approvals and to appeal decisions they do not like, without providing the same opportunity to citizens who may wish to challenge decisions that damage the environment; and Giving the Minister new power to overturn a conservation authority’s decision to refuse to issue a permit for development.
Alarmingly, the proposed changes were introduced as part of a budget bill, which means that the public’s right to comment under the Environmental Bill of Rights is over-ridden, as explained in the Environmental Registry of Ontario notice (ERO # 019-2646). Ontario’s Conservation Authorities are a unique and widely respected innovation.
 The vital role of our Conservation Authorities in watershed-based land use planning and permitting must be retained to prevent unchecked development that puts communities at risk from flooding and other climate change impacts through loss of wetlands, woodlands and farmland. Please join Ontario Nature in asking the government to withdraw Schedule 6 in its entirety from Bill 229.


ONTARIO: Demand greater public accountability and enhanced community resilience to climate change | Steamrolling the way for development, behind closed doors

Demand greater public accountability and enhanced community resilience to climate change | Steamrolling the way for development, behind closed doors: While Ontarians grapple with the social and economic impacts of a global pandemic, the Government of Ontario is quietly setting the stage for development projects to proceed without public consultation or the right to appeal. Without alerting the public through notices on the Environmental Registry of Ontario (ERO), the government has been issuing and revoking Minister’s Zoning Orders – effectively eliminating public participation in each planning decision.

Letter on this page.  
Examples on website of other communities.