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Report: Electric Vehicle Battery Manufacturing Is Plagued With Rights Violations And Environmental Threats

Human rights violations and environmental abuses were found in two nickel supply chains in the Philippines and Indonesia, where more than half of the world’s supplies are located. They supply batteries to companies including Panasonic, Tesla and Toyota, according to a report released Tuesday by a rights research group.

The lack of transparency in electric vehicle battery supply chains means that end-user companies must be held accountable, as they can easily distance themselves from lower-level abuses and avoid addressing associated risks, the Human Rights Resource Center and London-Based Companies (BHRRC). ) said in his report “Powering Electric Vehicles”.

Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (Rio Tuba) in the Philippines, and Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt (ZHC) and CNGR Advanced Materials (CNGR), two Chinese companies operating in Indonesia, are responsible for “growing incidents of environmental and human rights violations.” the group said.

Its mining operations have direct adverse effects on local communities, including loss of food security, destruction of surrounding tropical forests, water pollution, detrimental impact on marine life, and respiratory and other health-related problems.

The companies also allegedly did not obtain the free and prior consent of the indigenous communities to mine their land, the BHRRC said.

“Human rights abuses in electric vehicle supply chains must be urgently interrogated and mitigated…and supply chain transparency and accountability must be at the heart of this,” Pochoy Labog said. , BHRRC Southeast Asia Researcher.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of nickel, a key component for lithium-ion batteries, with 21 million metric tons (4.6 billion pounds) in proven reserves, according to the US Geological Survey.

The Philippines ranks fifth in reserves but ranks second in nickel production worldwide, with 330,000 metric tons (728 million pounds) in 2022, far behind the 1.6 million tons (3.5 billion pounds) produced by Indonesia.

In both countries, mining and processing companies have rejected the BHRRC’s claims, saying there are no significant impacts on the environment from their activities, and their own investigations have found no rights violations.

“If Elon Musk believes that nickel mining is green, he is not.”

Nickel ore is processed in two main industrial parks in Indonesia, where China is a leading investor. CNGR operates in Morowali in Central Sulawesi, while ZHC operates in Weda Bay on Halmahera Island in North Maluku, as well as East Luwu and Pomalaa in Sulawesi.

In the end, Tesla and Ford use their products.

An aerial photo shows a local settlement on the waterfront of the nickel mining industrial zone in Morowali, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, on January 10, 2023. Credit: Keisyah Aprilia for BenarNews.

Fishing, the profession of most residents, has been severely affected by excessive heating of seawater, “nearly boiling” due to exhaust from the cooling system of coal-fired power plants, according to the report, while residents have also complained of respiratory problems, which they suspect are caused by inhaling dust from coal discharged from barges to supply power plants.

In Bahodopi, Central Sulawesi, the report says mining operations were destroying forests and mining waste was spilling into rivers and streams. These polluted waters run through the towns reaching the sea and affecting the corals.

Melky Nahar, coordinator of the National Mining Defense Network (JATAM), said that such activities have caused “enormous ecological damage” in Morowali due to the large industrial area.

“The area is right in front of the sea… If Elon Musk believes that nickel mining is green, that’s not true,” he told BenarNews, a Radio Free Asia affiliate.

Ruslan Dula, a fisherman from Kurisa Hamlet in Morowali, said residents who have been at sea for decades “can no longer fish because the sea is polluted by nickel mining waste.”

“We are very disappointed that the contamination has prevented people from earning a living,” he said.

Dedi Askary, president of the Central Sulawesi chapter of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), said the Morowali industrial park carried out “actual practices of environmental crime” as they fail to properly manage “hazardous toxic waste.”

The government should “no longer issue permits to dump waste into the Morowali Sea,” said Muhammad Taufik, director of Mining Network (JATAM) for Central Sulawesi.

“Marine ecosystems are damaged and people’s livelihoods are contaminated,” he said.

‘Unsustainable’ Philippine concessions.

Rio Tuba is a Philippine and Japanese mining project in Palawan. Nickel ends up in electric vehicle batteries made by Panasonic, including those used by Tesla.

The report says that mining operations have allegedly had direct negative effects on the health and well-being of affected communities, including water pollution, loss of food security, and destruction of surrounding rainforests.

Locals reported coughing, respiratory illnesses and skin lesions, prompting water quality tests in the areas surrounding the mine site. The report said hexavalent chromium, a listed human carcinogen, in one of the river water samples was greater than 0.05 milligrams per liter (mg/L), or parts per million, a limit set by the World Health Organization.

Initial Rio Tuba sampling in December 1996 already showed “scaled values” of hexavalent chromium before the peak of mining operation, while a 2018-2019 study showed that the carcinogen in surface waters was mostly below the limit of 0.1mg/L.

The indigenous people of Palawan have also expressed concern about the imminent expansion of Rio Tuba.

Residents of the nickel mining island of Manicani display banners during a demonstration outside Nickel Asia, a mining company, to demand its closure after 25 years of operations in the city of Taguig, east of Manila, Philippines, on November 22. 2017. Credit: AP.

In 2017, Manila ordered the closure of 26 open-pit mines, most of them nickel-related, but they were allowed to resume operations in 2020.

The report says the loss of biodiversity in Palawan has illustrated how business-as-usual mining practices and levels are no longer sustainable.

Greenpeace Philippines country director Lea Guerrero said mining is unsustainable as “extractive activity itself is highly destructive.”

“We need to change the way we use materials as a society,” he told BenarNews. “Many mining concessions are located on islands where a lot of biodiversity and ecosystems are destroyed just to extract minerals.”

He said that, for example, spills can immediately reach the seas; in the case of some areas, large tracts of the islands are earmarked for mining concessions, displacing communities that make a living from fishing and farming or tourism.

The rise of electric vehicle-powered batteries means more mining.

Electric car markets are experiencing “exponential” growth as sales in 2022 surpassed 10 million globally, or 14% of all new cars sold last year, according to a report published last month by the Agency. Energy International, an intergovernmental organization based in Paris.

That’s ten times the 1 million sold in 2017. Sales are likely to grow another 35% this year to reach 14 million, meaning nearly one in five cars sold this year will be electric, the IEA said.

Indonesia alone is expected to account for half of the increase in global nickel production between 2021 and 2025, according to the IEA.

“As the world transitions to these cleaner energy sources, companies must recognize their role in mitigating endemic human rights issues in electric vehicle battery supply chains, and must use their influence to hold suppliers accountable for risks in their value chains,” BHRRC said.

Labog said that “positive momentum towards EVs risks being derailed by these unaddressed abuses.”

“While this shift towards greener energy sources should be encouraged, now is the time to start asking serious questions about human rights abuses in electric vehicle supply chains,” he said.

“The world has already begun the transition to cleaner energy sources, and decarbonized transportation is seeing significant investment,” Labog said.

BenarNews reporters Pizaro Gozali Idrus in Jakarta, Keisyah Aprilia in Central Sulawesi and BenarNews staff in Manila contributed to this report.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

Edited by Mike Firn.

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