Green energy transition must not sacrifice human rights, says Jesuit priest

OTTAWA — As Canada and other countries transition to green energy technology in response to climate change, Fr Jacques Nzumbu SJ underscored that such a move must not be made at the expense of the environment, and the human rights of vulnerable people like those in his home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Fr Nzumbu, who is a specialist in conflict minerals and renewable energy technology, spoke at a press conference on Parliament Hill organized by Canadian Jesuits International (CJI) as part of its fall campaign, Green Justice: Human Rights and Energy Transition. The campaign focuses on ensuring that solutions advanced to address climate change do not worsen the inequality between the Global North and South.

“Yes, we need green transition, but we also need a just, equitable and sustainable transition, not only in Canada, but everywhere in the world,” said Fr. Nzumbu. He decried the devastating impact of mining operations, some by Canadian companies, on local communities in in Lualaba, DRC.

Child labour is rampant in artisanal mines, said Fr. Nzumbu, who visited artisanal mines and saw children cleaning cobalt, some alongside their pregnant mothers, in muddy, toxic waters — all for $1 a day. Cobalt is used for lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, laptops, and smart phones.

Children work because their families are very poor, and their parents cannot really afford to send them to schools. “But the place of children is in school,” said Fr. Nzumbu. “Can we accept batteries coming from this kind of work?”

Both artisanal and industrial mining cause significant environmental damage, said Fr. Nzumbu, citing how mining companies pollute soil, water, and destroy forests that are important for the capture of carbon to balance the country’s cover in order to mitigate climate change. “Mining and oil operations are destroying the capability of Congo to capture carbon, so the future of our country is in danger.”

Fr Nzumbu urged Canadians to use their power as citizens and consumers to question where the batteries that cell phones, and green energy technology such as electric vehicles come from. They must also demand that laws be enacted compelling mining companies to practice due diligence and corporate social responsibility, he said.

CJI Executive Director Jenny Cafiso said that CJI, along with all other members of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA), supports two private Members’ bills introduced in the House of Commons March 29, 2022.

Bill C-263 aims to empower the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) to compel Canadian corporations to provide documents and testimonies in response to complaints about their actions that violate human rights. Bill C-262 will require Canadian companies to exercise due diligence with respect to human and environmental rights throughout their global supply chains.

If passed, these bills would give marginalized communities in the Global South more protection against forced labour, land and water contamination and violence against women. “These bills will require companies to change their behaviour or face consequences,” said Cafiso.

Republished from the website of Canadian Jesuits International

About Fr Jacques Nzumbu SJ
Fr Jacques Nzumbu SJ is a Jesuit and a specialist in conflict minerals, responsible mineral supply chain due diligence, corporate social responsibility of mining companies, artisanal mining and strategic minerals and energy transition. His expertise extends to renewable energy technology, especially in the areas of energy storage and transition technologies. He is a PhD student at UQAM (Montreal). He holds several master’s degrees: in governance and public policy of natural resources; in international affairs: economics, politics, and business law; and in Ignatian leadership.

About Jenny Cafiso
Jenny Cafiso has been the Executive Director at CJI since 2004. She brings years of experience as International Programs Coordinator at the Jesuit Refugee Service based in Rome. She has also worked as Coordinator of Educational Animation at Development and Peace in Toronto, and she worked in Peru with TAREA, a popular education centre working in slum areas of Lima. Jenny has travelled extensively for work in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. She holds an MA in Political Science and a post-graduate diploma in International Humanitarian Assistance.

About Canadian Jesuits International
Canadian Jesuits International is the international solidarity agency of the Jesuits of Canada that supports poor and marginalized people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America through the work of Jesuits and other partners as they strive for a more just society. CJI also carries out education and advocacy in Canada on international social justice and global solidarity.

Banner Photo: Fr Jacques Nzumbu addresses the parliamentary press conference in Ottawa October 31, 2022, as CJI Executive Director Jenny Cafiso waits for her turn to speak. Credit: Victor Reyes/CJI