Car manufacturers must ensure aluminium supply chains are free of human rights violations as the industry plans to double consumption of the metal by 2050, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged
Automotive companies should use their purchasing power to make sure communities are not being affected by the human rights abuses often associated with the production of aluminium, HRW said in its report Aluminum: the car industry’s blind spot.
The report was based on interviews with BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Groupe PSA, Renault, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo. Chinese automaker BYD, Hyundai, and Tesla did not respond to HRW’s requests for information.
Aluminium is produced from bauxite, a red ore which is smelted to produce the lightweight metal.
Refining of bauxite produces large amounts of toxic red mud, which can pollute waterways and lead to large-scale destruction of communities’ lands and damage to their water sources if not properly treated.
The industry’s transition to electric vehicles is likely to see aluminium consumption double over the next 30 years, increasing the risks from bauxite.
Also, most aluminium producers rely on coal to power the process, leading to the creation of more than 1bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually, or 2% of total global annual greenhouse gas emissions.
HRW called on the industry – which already uses a fifth of all aluminium produced – to use their influence to encourage excavators, refineries and smelters to meet human rights standards.
And while car manufacturers are committed to stamping out unethical practices in their supply chains, the report claims aluminium production has become a “blind spot” due to prioritising efforts on materials such as cobalt, for which ethical issues are more widely known and understood.
This has led to some manufacturers including Audi, BMW and Daimler joining an industry-led certification programme, the Aluminum Stewardship Initiative (ASI).
However, the HRW report said ASI’s human rights standards lack sufficient detail and the initiative needs to provide stronger guarantees for affected communities.
In addition, a coalition of 11 car companies that includes BMW, Daimler, Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo launched a project in May to assess the human rights risks inherent in aluminium production.
The project, which will also assess nine other raw materials, could lead to collective engagement between car companies and aluminium producers, the report added.