2024 January 25

EVs fuel growing demand for Indonesian nickel, while workers pay with their lives

Tragically, during the final days of 2023, 18 workers were killed and 38 were injured after an explosion at a nickel plant on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. Sulawesi is a hub for Indonesia's production of nickel, much of which is exported to meet the growing demand for use in renewable energy technologies, including batteries for electric vehicles.

Photo: Mining truck at a Sulawesi nickel mine, Indonesia. (Credit: Mirwanto Muda, Wikipedia Creative Commons)

This awful accident is sadly not the first time that workers have been killed in mining or smelting incidents in the Morowali Industrial Park, in Central Sulawesi. According to reports from Electronics Watch’s monitoring partner, since 2015 there have been at least 65 such incidents, resulting in the deaths of dozens of workers, and the injury or permanent disability of hundreds more still.

An initial investigation at the plant which exploded in December, owned by PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel (ITSS), showed the explosion happened during repair work on a furnace. Since then, eleven Indonesian trade unions and NGOs, including IndustriALL Global Union, issued a press statement condemning ITSS for its negligence which caused the industrial accident.

The company must take full responsibility for the accident and provide compensations to workers and their families. All companies located in IMIP (Morowali Industrial Park) must engage trade unions in improving safety standards, both ITSS and IMIP must stop intimidating workers who document workplace accidents.” said Iwan Kusmawan, chairperson of IndustriALL’s Indonesia Council.

Electronics Watch’s own Low Emission Vehicle programme harnesses worker-driven monitoring of worker rights in the automotive supply chains, focusing on minerals, electronics and batteries, including in nickel mines in Indonesia. We, and our programme participants, are clear that car manufacturers must take steps to ensure that nickel mining is not driving human rights abuses, nor the climate crisis.

Indeed, according to Climate Rights International, smelting at nickel industrial parks in Indonesia has a massive environmental impact. Instead of using solar and wind power, Indonesia is building new coal-fired plants, and nickel mining in the country is also a significant driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss.

Electronics Watch calls upon the Indonesian government and the corporate stakeholders in these mining and smelting plants to take immediate steps to remedy the social and environmental harms caused by nickel mining and processing. Furthermore, we call on corporate actors to establish collective bargaining processes with trade unions, in order to improve working conditions.

At the same time, Electronics Watch will further develop its monitoring activities in Indonesia during 2024 and 2025, and we invite more public buyers to affiliate, so that together we can harness our leverage and push suppliers to address the risks to workers, communities and the climate, in their supply chains.