Tesla's electric vehicles use batteries manufactured in part with nickel mined from locations at risk of human rights abuses © Photo by: Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Tesla's electric vehicles use batteries manufactured in part with nickel mined from locations at risk of human rights abuses © Photo by: Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Tesla and Toyota battery supply chains ‘riddled by human rights violations’

22 May 2023

Major carmakers Tesla and Toyota are using batteries that have proven links to mines “riddled by human rights violations” in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Supply chains of nickel, an essential component in EV batteries, are beset with human rights violations and environmental destruction, a report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) has claimed. However, many manufacturers may be blind to this. The group is now calling for greater supply chain transparency to ensure companies and investors understand the risks and are unable to distance themselves from such activities.

BHRRC's report, 'Powering electric vehicles: Human rights and environmental abuses in South East Asia’s nickel supply chains', linked nickel mines with poor human rights records to companies such as Panasonic, Tesla and Toyota through their sourcing channels. 

It said the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation’s operations in the Philippines are having “direct negative effects” on the health and welfare of local communities. Its nickel is exported to Japan where it is refined by Sumitomo Metal Mining, which sells it to Panasonic for use in its EV batteries, which are then purchased by carmakers including Tesla and Toyota.

Concerns have been raised over lack of free, prior and informed consent of local communities and Indigenous Peoples, loss of food security, and the destruction of the surrounding rainforests. Environmental groups have also raised concerns regarding water contamination in the area due to certain mining activities.

An investigation in December 2021 by the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism in partnership with the Pulitzer Centre’s Rainforest Investigations Network also linked Tesla to environmental destruction in the Philippines, where it found the increasing attraction of EVs was driving up demand for battery materials and therefore more mining. 

For countries like the Philippines, which has the second-largest nickel reserves in the world, this demand means “unleashing unprecedented levels of mineral extraction”, which if left unchecked would only cause further human rights abuses and environmental damage, the investigation said.

In Indonesia, two Chinese companies – Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt (ZHC) and CNGR Advanced Materials – have been linked to respiratory problems in a nearby fishing village, as well as the destruction of forests and water pollution. ZHC specifically is purported to have taken agricultural land and Indigenous land, as well as criminalising activists and Indigenous Peoples.

The BHRRC’s South East Asia researcher, Pochoy Labog, explained EV supply chains must be made more transparent to ensure buyers and investors can make better choices, and cannot distance themselves from abuses or avoid taking responsibility for the actions of their suppliers.

Labog said: “Now is the time to start asking serious questions about the human rights abuses in electric vehicle supply chains. Our research has already revealed the extent to which the extraction of nickel, one of the essential components of electric vehicles, is riddled with abuses. 

“But the opacity of these supply chains makes it difficult to identify, understand and remediate these abuses. Without supply chain transparency, battery manufacturers, end-user companies and investors can get away with not addressing these risks.

“The positive momentum towards electric vehicles risks being derailed by these unaddressed abuses, which have been known to delay projects and bring about unexpected costs. The human rights abuses in electric vehicle supply chains needs to be urgently interrogated and mitigated if a just transition to renewable energy is to be achieved – and supply chain transparency and accountability must be at the heart of this.”

The BHRRC is calling for EV makers to engage with workers and the communities in their supply chains in order to implement human rights due diligence throughout their products’ lifecycles. It said this must include adopting and effectively communicating zero-tolerance policies for the abuse of communities, workers and human rights defenders, including labour rights activists and Indigenous land and environmental defenders.

EV manufacturers must assign clear Board responsibility for and oversight of human and environmental rights, it said. And that the Board should approve policies and regularly review salient human and environmental rights abuse allegations, due diligence plans and remedy outcomes.

It is also calling for public reporting on its efforts to obtain full, prior and informed consent from these communities before making operational decisions in the area, to ensure safety and accessibility to the information for those most affected.

Tesla and Toyota were both contacted for comment.

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