Ella Skybenko, Ashley Nancy Reynolds, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, June 2021
Extractives projects, such as mines and oil fields, are one of the main sources of human rights abuses in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with hazardous working conditions, labour rights abuses, effects on the health of local communities, and severe environmental impacts.
Despite such serious allegations, Western companies and financial institutions have invested significantly in extractives projects in the name of development, and continue to do so. While socioeconomic development is greatly needed in the region, growth without human rights inherently undermines the stated purpose of development: to improve the lives and well-being of the individuals and communities within a society. Although companies and business activities can be key drivers of sustainable development, they can also fundamentally undermine human rights through abuses and unintended impacts. This is especially true in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where human rights impacts linked to business activities often go unaddressed and unremedied.
The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has sought to illuminate these issues by analysing the human rights policies and performance of 30 extractives companies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with a focus on Armenia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan. In doing so, we aim to draw attention to the major human rights risks and impacts within the region, as well as address the lack of information around business activities. While our findings focus in on the top 10 extractives companies in Armenia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan, we believe this research is indicative of broader trends in these countries, as well as the region as a whole.
Key findings included:
- Companies in Kazakhstan recorded the highest number of human rights issues (73), followed by Armenia (60) and then Georgia (34).
- Poor access to information on business activities was a concern. It was extremely difficult to find any information on the human rights performance of eight of the 30 companies researched, while 22 companies had noted issues around access to information.
- There is an alarming gap between policy and practice. Although 19 companies have human rights policies, all of them faced allegations of abuse.
- Allegations relating to environmental and water rights were the most common (25 allegations), followed closely by access to information (22), health and safety (22) and livelihood and standard of living (22). Community, culture and property rights (20) and labour rights (19) were also noted as serious points of concern, with fair compensation and wages a common issue.
- Deaths and violence were among the most severe human rights abuses found in company activities in all three countries.