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Guinea: Car industry under fire for rights abuses in the aluminium supply chain

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Thursday, 22 July 2021 15:59

The Simandou mountains in Beyla, Guinea. REUTERS/Saliou Sam

Guinea is a priority area for action by the global auto industry over human-rights abuses in aluminium supply chains, according to a new report.

A report titled Aluminum: The Car Industry’s Blind Spot – Why Car Companies Should Address the Human Rights Impact of Aluminum Production was published today by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Inclusive Development International (IDI).

In 2019, car manufacturers used nearly a fifth of all aluminium consumed worldwide. And by 2050, they are forecast to double their consumption, driven by the transition to electric vehicles.

More than half the aluminium used by the auto industry is produced from bauxite, of which Guinea has the world’s largest deposits. Guinea is the leading exporter of bauxite to China – where most of the world’s aluminium is produced.

The report says car companies have prioritised supply-chain due diligence for other materials such as cobalt – that are needed for electric vehicles – at the expense of aluminium.

In Guinea, mining companies have taken advantage of the lack of legal registration of rural land rights to determine if and how they compensate families for their land.

  • Kounssa Bailo Barry, a Guinean farmer and activist, said a bauxite mine owned by a joint venture between Rio Tinto, Alcoa and Dadco has destroyed 80% of the farmland in his village of Fassaly.
  • Barry’s village and 12 other communities are participating in a mediation process with the miners.

Société Minière de Boké (SMB) and Compagnie des Bauxite de Guinée (CBG) made up almost 60% of Guinea’s bauxite exports in 2020.

SMB is a consortium between the world’s largest aluminium producer, China Hongqiao Group, Singaporean shipping company Winning International Group and Guinean logistics company United Mining Services International.

CBG is a joint venture between the Guinean government, Rio Tinto, Alcoa and Dadco.

  • Bauxite mining can contaminate rivers by removing vegetation and increasing erosion, thereby reducing the water available.
  • Research carried out by IDI in 2019 found that CBG’s operations had polluted or destroyed 91 water sources that were serving 17 villages.
  • In Ghana, a coalition of civil society groups says a planned bauxite mine in the Atewa rainforest threatens to contaminate rivers that provide drinking water to millions of people.

Industry response

The report was prepared after correspondence with nine major car manufacturers – BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Groupe PSA, Renault, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo. According to HRW and IDI, before the nine manufacturers were contacted, none of them had mapped their aluminium supply chain to understand the human-rights risks.

  • In May, a group of car companies including BMW, Daimler, Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo, started a project to assess the human-rights risks in aluminium supply chains and those of nine other raw materials.
  • CBG told HRW that it is working to update its policy for resettling displaced communities and that it will publish the revised document in the third quarter of this year.
  • SMB said its land acquisitions are consistent with Guinean law and international standards, and that local communities have received fair compensation.

HRW and IDI say that car companies must ensure that binding human-rights and environmental standards are built into their procurement contracts and require suppliers to do the same.

  • Car companies must require mines, refineries or smelters – implicated in human-rights violations – to develop corrective action plans and remedies for victims. If those plans are not put into action, manufacturers should reject materials from those facilities.
  • The auto industry should also develop grievance mechanisms through which communities can file complaints of human-rights abuses by bauxite mines or aluminium producers, the report says.

Bottom line

NGOs are pushing for automotive and mining industry reviews of bauxite mining and processing in Guinea, as well as other producing countries, to be followed by action.

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