International responsible business conduct put on the agenda at global offshore wind conference

The participants in the negotiations process for an international responsible business conduct (RBC) agreement for the renewable energy sector were present at the 2021 RenewableUK event in London. In a side-event organised with the Dutch Embassy in the United Kingdom, the theme of human rights and environmental impacts of renewable energy value chains was discussed with companies active in the sector.

Large crane vessel installing a transformer platform in a windfarm under construction of the UK coast © Shutterstock

The event was opened by Tessel van Essen on behalf of the Dutch Government. In her opening statement, Van Essen reiterated the Dutch government’s policy that seeks to stimulate companies to act in accordance with the international human rights and environmental standards throughout their operations. The Dutch government has the ambition to introduce general binding human rights and environmental due diligence measures at the national level if the EU does not do so at the European level. Voluntary sectoral cooperation, like the current process towards a multi-stakeholder renewable energy RBC agreement, is part of the Dutch governments smart mix of RBC policies until then.

“Support for sector wide cooperation is expected to help companies carry out precompetitive and ambitious activities in the field of RBC and the create a platform for companies to improve their due diligence collectively and to share knowledge and best practice.” Tessel van Essen, Senior commercial attaché of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The opening remarks from the Dutch government was followed by substantive presentations by Elin Wrzoncki of the Danish Institute for Human rights, Sophie Kwizera from ActionAid and Arjan Pouw representing Vattenfall; all parties of the agreement negotiations process. Manuella Appiah of the Dutch Social and Economic Council that serves as the independent facilitator of the multi-stakeholder negotiations informed the participants about the ambitions and process of the envisaged agreement.

Research conducted by ActionAid and Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) reveal risks and actual abuses of fundamental rights of individuals, workers and communities in the operations and supply chains of renewable energy companies. Negative impacts in the supply chains include infringement of individual and collective labour rights, water and air pollution, loss of biodiversity and gender related issues. It is therefore pertinent that the rights and interests of stakeholders affected by, for example, wind farms—from the sourcing of raw materials to the decommissioning and recycling of wind turbines—are protected and respected in the energy transition.

Ugandan boy breaking rocks into small slabs
© Shutterstock

Many participants in the room acknowledged that, there is a general lack of awareness of the human rights impacts of the wind turbines supply chains, and commended the initiative for the event at the Global Offshore Wind 2021. An attendee found the progress of the parties in the negotiations towards the envisaged multi-stakeholder agreement to be impressive stating that, “we don’t hear this in the boardrooms and the salesrooms of offshore wind”.

Vattenfall shared that its desire to have a positive impact from a full value chain perspective is one of the reasons why they joined the agreement process. Arjan Pouw, Sustainability Advisor Vattenfall: “The complexity and limited transparency in the supply chains require collaboration to build leverage and to be supported with complying with international RBC standards. You really need the multi-stakeholder perspective in order to address and mitigate issues in the supply chains more effectively.”

There was ample time for interaction between the participants and the speakers about how to strengthen RBC in the sector. Alexandra van Selm, who facilitated the discussions and serve as independent chairperson of the negotiations process invited the participants for follow-up conversation on how the renewable energy sector multi-stakeholder process can support their sustainability ambitions.

More information

A number of organisations in the renewable energy sector (covering both the wind and solar sectors) are exploring the possibility to reach an international RBC agreement to collectively prevent and address issues in the value chain. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises form the basis of the multi-stakeholder agreement. The parties in the negotiations process include several energy companies, original equipment manufacturers, European and Dutch based industry associations, civil society organisations and the Dutch Government. More information about the envisaged Agreement process.

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Would you like to read more about the risks and impacts? Please check out the background reading materials: