In Guinea and Ghana, non-governmental organizations are pressurizing automotive industry stakeholders to curb social and environmental degradations caused by exploiting bauxite in the two African nations.
In a report published at the end of July and entitled “Aluminum, blind spot in the automotive sector”, international organizations Human Rights Watch and Inclusive Development International call on car manufacturers to take a number of measures to fight against human rights abuses of humans in their aluminum supply chains.
Automakers, for example, should start by ensuring that binding environmental and human rights standards are incorporated into their purchasing agreements with their direct suppliers.
Allow communities to lodge complaints
In addition, it is recommended that they “approach mines, refineries or smelters involved in human rights abuses to help them develop corrective action plans with a timetable and remedies for victims.”
Support the development of laws
Finally, the report’s authors call on automakers to support the development of laws that require all business players to take a “serious” approach to human rights, including within their supply chains.
These recommendations stem from the observations made by its authors in countries producing bauxite (the raw material for aluminum), such as Guinea, which is on the way to becoming the largest producer of bauxite in the world, with a market share increased from 4% (i.e. 17 million tonnes) in 2014 to 22% (82 million tonnes) in 2020.
Destruction of cultivated land
However, in Boké in the north of the country, communities explain in the report how mining destroys the land they have cultivated for generations, damaging the environment on which they depend for their livelihood and food. Leaving them in precariousness, without basic services like water and electricity.
Because, we learn, this destruction does not always result from a consensus with the local populations and is not often accompanied by compensation or compensation and investments for the benefit of their victims, as prescribed by international law.
Numerous rights violations
Amadou Bah, executive director of the NGO Action Mines Guinée sums up the situation: “Mining in Guinea generates violations that have several facets: they are linked to expropriation, pollution, labor law, mismanagement. community expectations and sometimes the poor application of legislation in this area.”
In an interview with SciDev.Net, he points out that this situation often generates tensions between mining companies and the communities living around mining projects.
The automotive industry, the main consumer
David Pred, editor of the report for Inclusive Development International, says the report specifically calls on the auto industry to right these wrongs because it consumes 20% of the world’s aluminum; and this share is expected to double over the next 30 years.
Yet, he told SciDev.Net, “although many of the world’s major automakers have publicly committed to addressing human rights abuses in their supply chains, they have focused their due diligence on other materials essential to electric vehicles, such as cobalt, necessary for electric batteries, and have done little to assess and address the considerable impact that aluminum production has on local communities and l ‘environment. ”
Respect for social norms
American Ford did not respond to questions from SciDev.Net. In contrast, the German Volkswagen says it takes its responsibility as a company in the area of human rights “very seriously”.
“Our work with our factories, sales companies and suppliers is based on respect for minorities, employee representation, social and labor standards. We expect the same from our business partners around the world, ”said Esra Aydin, Acting Spokesperson for Corporate Engagement and Sustainability at Volkswagen.
Sustainable development requirements
“Only suppliers who accept our sustainability requirements and are committed to meeting them can establish a business relationship with Volkswagen,” insists the latter.
Same story with Audi, another German manufacturer, which also heads the aluminum activities of the Volkswagen group and has been a member of the Aluminum Stewardship Initiative (ASI) since 2013. Here, they say they take “our responsibility to people very seriously. and the environment ”.
Engage in dialogue
However, “for reasons of data protection and competition law, we have no knowledge of the complete supply chain from aluminum to the bauxite mine”, nuance Sabrina Kolb, spokesperson for sustainable development at Audi.
According to the latter, the importance of Guinea as an important actor in the extraction of bauxite is recognized within the ASI and contacts have been made with representatives of associations, as requested by actors involved to engage in a dialogue.
“We believe that the growing share of certified aluminum in the market, including certified mining operations, is the right way to build more sustainable supply chains,” says Sabrina Kolb.
For its part, Toyota Motor Europe through the voice of Paul Greaves, its head of corporate communications affirms that “we strive to minimize the impact of our supply activities on local communities, and we will ask our suppliers to take measures to avoid using certain materials if there is a problem with the source”.
More restrictive standards
“As part of these efforts, we can ask a vendor to make improvements, and we follow up on these improvement activities as necessary,” he adds.
Amadou Bah thinks that car manufacturers can effectively help to make mining companies aware of their responsibilities and to enact “much more restrictive and responsible” standards to be applied.
“But,” he says, “the main role falls to the state which is responsible for legislating, monitoring the application of the legislation and which has the responsibility to protect the investments and the communities living in the mining areas.”
The authors of this report say they expect bauxite mining companies to take “clear and measurable” steps to prevent damage to local communities caused by their operations and to make substantial investments in land rehabilitation, restoration. water and community development.
“We will be monitoring the situation on the ground in countries like Guinea and Ghana and the actions that automakers take. We will continue to put pressure on the auto industry,” said David Pred.
This article was first published by SciDev.Net.