Aluminum is Car Industry’s Blind Spot
Car manufacturers are major industrial consumers of aluminum, using 18% of all aluminum consumed worldwide and industry’s demand for aluminum will double by 2050. Aluminum is highly recyclable, but more than half the aluminum used by the car industry is primary aluminum produced from bauxite. The aluminum industry portrays aluminum as a key material for the transition to a more sustainable world. This image, however, contrasts sharply with the experience of communities, like Camara’s, for whom bauxite mining has had a devastating impact on their way of life.
Automobile companies need to do more to address abuses in their aluminum supply chains and the bauxite mines they source from, Human Rights Watch and Inclusive Development International said in a report. Car manufacturers used nearly a fifth of all aluminum consumed worldwide in 2019 and they are forecast to double their aluminum consumption by 2050 as they transition to electric vehicles. The 63-page report, “Aluminum: The Car Industry’s Blind Spot – Why Car Companies Should Address the Human Rights Impact of Aluminum Production,” describes the global supply chains that connect car manufacturers to mines, refineries, and smelters from countries including Guinea, Ghana, Brazil, China, Malaysia, and Australia. Based on meetings and correspondence with nine major car companies – BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Groupe PSA (now part of Stellantis), Renault, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo – Human Rights Watch and Inclusive Development International assessed how the auto industry addresses the human rights impacts of aluminum production, from the destruction of farmland and damage to water sources caused by mines and refineries to the significant carbon emissions from aluminum smelting. Three other companies BYD, Hyundai, and Tesla did not respond to requests for information.
Although many of the world’s leading car companies have publicly committed to addressing human rights abuses in their supply chains, they have done little to evaluate and address the human rights impact of aluminum production. They have instead prioritized supply chain due diligence for other materials central to electric vehicles, such as the cobalt needed for electric batteries.
Because they involve surface level mining, bauxite mines take up a large area, often destroying farmland that underpins the livelihoods of local communities. Bauxite mines can also have a devastating impact on rivers, streams, and groundwater sources that communities rely upon for household consumption and irrigation. In Guinea, a West African country with the world’s largest bauxite deposits, a government study forecast in 2019 that over the following 20 years a bauxite mining boom 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. Approximately 80 percent of residents in Guinea’s bauxite mining region rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.