One Big Thing: Will Aluminum Producers Heed the Call to Respect Human Rights?
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Automobile manufacturers have heralded electric cars as a greener alternative to traditional gasoline cars which emit 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year on average. However, a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Inclusive Development International (IDI) found that the picture is not so rosy. According to the report, transitioning to electric cars would require manufacturers to “double their aluminum consumption by 2050.”
This could have devastating effects: “The impacts of mining and refining the raw materials needed for aluminum include large-scale destruction of communities’ lands and damage to their water sources. The aluminum industry’s reliance on coal also means it is responsible for 2 percent of global annual greenhouse gas emissions.”
The West African country of Guinea has the world’s largest bauxite deposits, the ore from which aluminum is produced. In 2019, the government conducted a study which forecasted that bauxite mining over the next 20 years would “remove 858 square kilometers of agricultural land and destroy more than 4,700 square kilometers of natural habitat, an area six times bigger than New York City.” In a primarily agricultural region, this would be disastrous for residents’ livelihoods.
Elsewhere in Brazil’s Pará State, a group representing around 11,000 families sued Norsk Hydro, a Norwegian aluminum producer, for improper disposal of toxic waste which has contaminated waterways.
There have been some positive developments in the automobile manufacturing industry, such as the Aluminum Stewardship Initiative (ASI), which tries to ensure responsible sourcing of aluminum and keep aluminum producers in line with human rights and environmental standards through third-party audits.
Additionally, Drive Sustainability, which brings together 11 different car companies, launched a project in May to gauge the human rights risks in producing aluminum and nine other raw materials.
Jim Wormington, senior HRW Africa researcher, noted the importance of car companies leading the charge for change. “Pressure from car manufacturers that purchase aluminum can play a key role in pushing mining companies to constructively resolve communities’ complaints,” he said.
“Once car companies and other industries communicate clearly to aluminum producers that they will only buy aluminum that is free of human rights abuses, we think mining companies and the aluminum sector more broadly will quickly up their game.”
Read HRW and IDI’s full report HERE
Watch a 2 minute video from HRW about the impact of aluminum production on human rights HERE
Authored by Paulina Song
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