Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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The rapid growth of electric vehicle (EV) production and sales worldwide has raised concerns about the mining of a crucial metal in Southeast Asia. A recent report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) warns that the mining of nickel, a key material for EV batteries, is leading to human rights abuses and environmental damage in Indonesia and the Philippines.

While the United States, Europe, and China have been at the forefront of the EV revolution, Southeast Asian countries are now positioning themselves as EV manufacturing hubs to meet global climate pledges and transition to renewable energy. Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, boasting abundant rare earth and nickel reserves, aim to attract manufacturers and highlight their potential.

However, the BHRRC report sheds light on the dark side of the nickel sector in these countries. It reveals human rights abuses and environmental risks associated with nickel mining and processing. Indigenous communities face the loss of their lands without obtaining free, prior consent. Rainforest destruction, crop damage, water contamination, health issues, and declining local fish stocks are among the significant concerns.

The report emphasizes the need for urgent action to address human rights abuses and environmental risks in EV supply chains. The BHRRC calls on electronics companies and buyers to clean up their supply chains, urging mining firms to implement human rights and environmental due diligence. EV manufacturers should prioritize human rights due diligence and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to abuses. Financiers and investors are also urged to commit to rights-respecting investments and follow UN guidelines for mining and renewable energy investments.

Labog, the researcher behind the report, emphasizes the importance of enacting human rights legislation in buyer and producer countries to ensure ethical business practices in the nickel industry. He points out that despite the challenges, there is an opportunity for Southeast Asia’s nickel industry to address these issues and transition to a greener and more sustainable approach.

Efforts are being made by governments in Indonesia and the Philippines to address environmental standards and regulate the industry. Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has pledged to improve monitoring and require companies to reforest depleted mines and use renewable energy. In the Philippines, open-pit mines, including those involved in nickel production, were ordered to close in 2017 but later allowed to resume operations after addressing concerns.

Labog remains hopeful, stating that engagement from all stakeholders, including EV companies, is crucial to ensure a responsible and sustainable nickel industry in Southeast Asia. The opportunity exists to break away from past practices and build a socially and environmentally conscious supply chain for the EV revolution.

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