Rights groups have called on automakers to do more to address abuses in their aluminum supply chains, including the destruction of agricultural land, damage to water sources and excessive gas emissions. greenhouse gases affecting communities in Africa, Asia and South America.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW), along with Inclusive Development International (IDI), published a page of 63 report detailing the decline in aluminum production – particularly in relation to the extraction and refining of bauxite raw materials – in countries including Guinea, Ghana, Brazil, China, Malaysia and Australia.
“Car manufacturers see aluminum as a critical material for the transition to fuel-efficient vehicles,” said Jim Wormington, senior researcher in Africa at HRW. “They must use their ever-increasing purchasing power to protect communities where land and the environment are damaged by the aluminum industry.”
While the world’s leading automakers are “publicly committed to resolving human rights abuses in their supply chains, they have done little to assess and address the human rights impact of aluminum production. ”HRW said in a statement.
However, amid rising global production and awareness, manufacturers have placed more emphasis on addressing the abuses committed in the supply chains of other raw materials used for electric vehicles, especially cobalt, according to the report, which was partly based on correspondence with nine major car companies: BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, PSA Group (now part of Stellantis), Renault, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.
Three other companies – BYD, Hyundai and Tesla – have not responded to requests to participate in the studies.
Car companies will use one-fifth of all aluminum consumed worldwide in 2019 and are expected to double their consumption by 2050, the report says.
Destruction of agricultural land, pollution of waterways
The report highlights how many processes linked to aluminum production have dire consequences on local communities.
Bauxite, a red mineral, involves “surface level extraction,” which can destroy large areas of agricultural land.
In Guinea, which has the largest bauxite deposits in the world, a government study in 2019 projected that over the next 20 years, bauxite extraction will eliminate about 858 square kilometers (331 square miles) of agricultural land, destroying some 4,700 km2 (1,814sq miles) of natural habitat, according to the statement.
Meanwhile, the refining of bauxite into alumina, a step toward the creation of aluminum, creates a large amount of dangerous “red mud” that can pollute watercourses.
A group in the Brazilian state of Para is suing a bauxite mine, a refinery and an aluminum smelter for alleged contamination of watercourses in the Amazon basin.
The report also highlighted the energy-intensive process of aluminum smelting, noting that China, a leading aluminum smelting country, has produced 90 percent of its aluminum through energy smelting. coal in 2018.
Overall, aluminum production is responsible for about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, he said.
While three German carmakers – Audi, BMW and Daimler – have encouraged their suppliers to join an industry-led certification program, Aluminum Stewardship Initiative (ASI), rights groups have said the program has not. “adequate detail and does not provide specific criteria for assessing how companies respond to key human rights issues.”
The report’s authors noted that some car companies have taken further measures to address aluminum supply chain problems since they were contacted by rights groups.
In May, Drive Sustainability, a group of 11 car companies, including BMW, Daimler, Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo, launched an initiative to assess human rights risks in the production of aluminum and nine other raw materials. .
In a statement, Natalie Bugalski, the legal and political director of Inclusive Development International, said the steps should be just the beginning of a “broader effort by the automotive industry to address the impact of rights. human resources of aluminum production ”.