This aerial picture taken on May 14, 2023 shows a general view of PT. Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP), one of the biggest nickel producers in Konawe Utara. (Photo by RIZA SALMAN / AFP) This aerial picture taken on May 14, 2023 shows a general view of PT. Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP), one of the biggest nickel producers in Konawe Utara. (Photo by RIZA SALMAN / AFP)  (AFP or licensors)

E-vehicle supply lines leave trail of abuse in Southeast Asia

A report reveals the incidents of human rights and environmental abuses in two countries in Southeast Asia by companies which feed into the production of electric vehicles.

By Zeus Legaspi

The transition to greener forms of transportation may not be as green as one might think, a report said, citing salient human rights and environmental risks in the supply chains of electric vehicles (EVs) in Southeast Asia.

A briefing from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (Resource Centre) provided insights into the nickel supply chains in the Philippines and Indonesia, uncovering a trail of human rights abuses and environmental damage. 

The report examined the operations of the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (Rio Tuba) in the Philippines, as well as two Chinese companies, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt (ZHC), and CNGR Advanced Materials (CNGR), operating in Indonesia.

These companies are part of a more extensive network of supply chains involved in mining, processing, and exporting nickel and other materials for the production of EVs, which are promoted as a greener alternative to traditional fuel-powered automobiles. 

However, the London-based organization emphasized that a closer examination of these "renewable energy products" reveals systemic negative impacts on ecosystems and local communities.

The supply chains monitored in the report begin with the Southeast Asian countries and end in EV giants Tesla and Toyota, among others.

According to the report, the companies operating in these two Southeast Asian countries have directly harmed the health and well-being of local communities. 

This includes instances of lacking free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) from local communities and Indigenous Peoples, loss of food security, deforestation, water contamination, and pollution-related health issues.

Environmental groups highlight the lack of comprehensive and sustainable mining policies in the Philippines and Indonesia as one of the primary reasons why these abuses persist. 

Despite numerous reports documenting these negative impacts on people and the environment, the nickel extraction and processing industry is expected to expand further in Southeast Asia.

“Disregard of the link between supposedly ‘green’ EVs and the ecological destruction wrought by the mining of transition minerals such as nickel, is negligent at best. At worst, it is active participation in greenwashing,” the Resource Centre said.

The report states that globally, the market for nickel, a key material used in EV batteries, is projected to grow from 17 billion US dollars (15.7 billion euro) to 95 billion US dollars (88 billion euro) between 2019 and 2028. This growth has spurred companies to intensify their search for nickel ore deposits.


The Rio Tuba mine and a processing facility in Palawan, Philippines. (Kimberly dela Cruz, 2021)
The Rio Tuba mine and a processing facility in Palawan, Philippines. (Kimberly dela Cruz, 2021)

According to the Resource Centre, there have been reports of upticks in coughs and respiratory diseases, as well as skin lesions among residents near the mining site. 

A water quality assessment lasting from 2009 to 2019 on the Togpon River, one of the rivers near the site, found that the hexavalent chromium content in the water was greater than 0.05 milligrams per liter – the limit set by the World Health Organization. 

Hexavalent chromium is a listed human carcinogen that can cause a number of respiratory conditions. 

A Rio Tuba representative stated that the company has been monitoring the hexavalent chromium levels of the river since 2012 and said it was historically high. 

There have also been reports of anomalies in acquiring the FPIC from Indigenous Peoples. According to the study, the memorandum of agreement was signed by a tribe chieftain who was nominated externally by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples – a decision that did not follow the conventional traditions usually headed by an indigenous hereditary leader.

The report also detailed that in the Philippines, nickel is found just below vegetation which means that mining for the metal is done horizontally. This results to rapid deforestation, which according to the Resource Centre, is at a rate no reforestation program will be able to offset.

The country’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), under its Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said that around 190 new mining projects could be granted approval in the next four years, a third of which will be nickel.


According to the Resource Centre report, CNGR's operations in Indonesia have had an indirect impact on the lives, health, and environment of residents in Morowali, Central Sulawesi, where residents frequently complain of respiratory problems caused by dust inhaled from coal unloaded from barges to supply nearby power plants.

The power plants, located inside the PT Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (PT IMIP), have also affected the fisherfolk in the area. They said that the seawater has reached an “almost boiling” temperature due to the cooling system exhausts from the coal-fired power plants, killing or driving away marine life.

Further, cases of water contamination and deforestation have also been documented as a consequence of PT IMIP’s activities.

Another industrial complex in Weda Bay has been linked to similar human rights and environmental violations. The complex, PT Indonesia Weda Bay Industrial Park (PT IWIP), has allegedly taken over the land of Lelilef Sawai residents.

PT IWIP has also been reported to have polluted the main water sources for the residents, namely the Ake Wosia, Ake Sake, Seslewe Sini, and Kobe rivers.

Car manufacturers, who are allegedly sourcing nickel from Indonesia, responded to Resource Centre, saying that they will meet the Responsible Sourcing Standards and are “concerned” about the reports of abuse in the Southeast Asian country.

The Resource Centre is an international Non-Government Organization that tracks the human rights impact of more than 10,000 companies across nearly 200 countries. 

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22 May 2023, 12:01