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Resources extraction fuels rights violations and racial subordination – UN expert

08 July 2019

GENEVA (8 July 2019) – Industry’s extraction of natural resources routinely inflicts acute human rights violations on racial and ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples and other marginalised groups, said the UN’s human rights expert on racism.

In her report to the Human Rights Council on racial inequality and discrimination concerns arising from global extractivism, Special Rapporteur E. Tendayi Achiume says “powerful States – including those that have yet fully to reckon with their colonial extractivism legacies – must commit to undoing the structures of subordination and inequality that persist” in the extractive economy. This economy includes mineral and fossil fuel extraction, and monocultural large-scale agricultural, forestry and fishery operations.

The UN expert connects the contemporary extractive economy to the racially discriminatory history of colonial extractivism.

“Powerful States and their transnational corporations, and the political elites of weaker States that are territories of extraction, emerge as the clear winners… the scale of corporate benefit from the extractivism economy is staggering. At the same time, those peoples who in the past were colonised on the grounds of false claims of their racial inferiority, today continue to bear the greatest cost of the extractivism economy.”

The report says many populations ‑ including much of the global South, racial and ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, and other marginalised groups ‑ continue to be denied an equitable share in natural resource extraction’s development and economic benefits. These groups are also subject to gross human rights violations, including violations of the right to life; rights to racial equality and to be free from discrimination; to health and a healthy environment; to water; to free speech and assembly; to participate in political processes; and to just and favorable working conditions.

The report also highlights the particular human rights abuse suffered by women, who confront unique threats, especially where these women are also members of ethnic, racial or indigenous minorities.

Achiume noted existing reforms and continuing international progress in implementing due diligence, transparency and human rights requirements but stressed that “the status quo does not yet place a meaningful check on the global reach of transnational extractive companies”.

Her report urges States to centre substantive analysis of rights to racial equality, gender equality, and non-discrimination in their reform, regulation, and evaluation of the extractivism economy.

“All participants in the extractivism economy should reject a colour-blind or gender-blind approach that ignores the persisting structural and individualised racial discrimination in the operation of such an economy. States, corporations, multilateral organizations and human rights actors must all take seriously the substantive approach to racial equality articulated in the present report and work to diminish the impact that race, ethnicity, national origin and gender have on the human rights situation of many within the extractivism economy.”


Ms E. Tendayi Achiume (Zambia) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in September 2017. Ms. Achiume is currently a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law, and a research associate of the African Center for Migration and Society (ACMS) at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

For more information and press inquiries, please contact: Ms. Minkyong Kim (+41 22 917 8876) 

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected]