Dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have called on Tesla to halt its expected investment in Indonesia’s nickel industry because of its “potentially devastating impact on the environment and the lives of Indonesians”.
A letter to CEO Elon Musk expressed concern that a recent meeting he held with Indonesian delegates at the Gigafactora in Austin was part of a larger effort to develop a Tesla nickel plant – the new Gigafactora – in Indonesia.
Indonesia has the world’s largest nickel reserves. Nickel is an essential raw material for Tesla’s cell battery.
In the multi-signatory letter, the NGOs said there would be a number of impacts to the nickel industry and its supply chain if Tesla goes ahead with its plans for the nickel plant:
- large-scale systemic environmental damage;
- threats of criminalization of indigenous communities and environmentalists who protect their land from nickel mines;
- adverse impacts on vulnerable groups such as women; and,
- violations of law committed by upstream and downstream actors of the nickel industry.
Nickel is mainly mined in Russia, Canada, New Caledonia and Indonesia, and the growth of electric vehicles (EVs) is adding a new source of demand for the metal.
The Indonesian Environment Forum, WALHI, is the largest and oldest environmental organization in Indonesia. In addition to members of US civil society organizations and other NGOs, the organization revealed that Indonesia’s Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Investment held a meeting with Musk in April and with President Joko Widodo in May.
Plea for Tesla to stop investment in nickel mining
In the letter to Tesla, the NGOs acknowledge that Tesla has invested heavily in its nickel supply chain and battery research. Noting that Tesla considers the nickel acquisition part of its “green investment,” the signatories also make it clear that Indonesia’s nickel industry is anything but green.
Indonesian mining, by contrast, has a record of environmental damage, imprisonment of protesters who abuse democracy and equality, threats to vulnerable groups, and multiple violations of the law.
In the spirit of encouraging improvements in the protection of the environment, society and the protection of human rights in Indonesia, non-governmental organizations invited Elon Musk and the shareholders of Tesla, Inc. to consider the following recommendations:
- Abolish any potential direct investment plan in Indonesia’s nickel industry as current nickel industry practices reveal potential widespread harm to both the environment and communities in Indonesia.
- Ban nickel produced and produced in Indonesia in every Tesla, Inc. business line. to prevent a recurrence of widespread damage to both the environment and communities in Indonesia.
- Ensure that the business lines of Tesla Inc. in accordance with the basic principles of the implementation of business and human rights as stipulated by the United Nations in order to prevent the violation of human rights committed in disregard of business operations.
Excavation of the mining process
Mining operations have caused a variety of damages – from micro-scale (such as reducing soil fertility), to large-scale loss of primary forests, to triggering climate change. It’s unclear how Tesla’s nickel mining procedures would be affected if the company were to move forward with the Indonesian gigafactory. (It should be noted that Tesla is also working to limit its need for nickel.
In 2020, Musk urged the mining industry to produce more nickel “in an environmentally sensitive way” and derided US nickel production as “objectively very weak”.
“I’d just like to reiterate, all the mining companies out there, please mine more nickel,” Musk said during the quarterly conference call. “Wherever you are in the world, dig more nickel and… go for efficient, obviously environmentally friendly nickel mining on a large scale. Tesla will give you a gigantic contract for a long period of time, if you mine nickel efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way.”
The comments came as a network of independent experts, activists, leaders and organizations of Russia’s indigenous peoples called on Tesla and Musk to boycott the Russian mining company until it meets specific environmentally friendly conditions. Nornickel is recognized as an international leader in nickel production, but “is also a global leader in environmental pollution”.
Mineral extraction leads to environmental damage, especially in terms of soil, hydrology and loss of vegetation. Mining operations can harm the natural ecosystem, especially through the use of heavy equipment, the disposal of rock waste and tailings, the construction of several large acid and toxic pits, and the reduction of surface water runoff.
Mining in the province of South Sulawesi shows how nickel mining leads to serious environmental damage. For example, approximately 4,449.2 hectares (10,994 acres) of rainforest area has been destroyed due to pollution – waste tailings have caused the exposure of mining sludge in Lake Mahalona, silting of the river mouth and water pollution from Pongkeru River and Malili River to Lampia Beach.
Similar problems have occurred at Bungku Beach in Central Sulawesi, where waste tailings have increased silt in nearby rivers and beaches, inhibiting the ability of local and indigenous people to make a traditional living from fishing.
Fears of deforestation in Indonesia and its consequences
The damage to the environment is the result of the total area of the forest being converted to nickel mining, which causes increased deforestation and the threat of polluted water in the river, lake and beaches, which are essential for the life of indigenous and local communities. Nickel mining has taken over forests in Indonesia, adding to the devastation of coal and gold mining.
Approximately 673,246 hectares (1,663,628 acres) of forest land in Indonesia has been allocated to nickel mining corporations, potentially leading to deforestation. Deforestation and forest degradation are prominent indicators of the loss of natural resources that cause a decline in people’s quality of life and climate change.
In 2019, deforestation due to mining activities caused catastrophic flooding in Southeast Sulawesi. Forests have been damaged due to conversion of land into plantations and mining.
Devastation of the environment throughout the region and people
Indonesian law prohibits mines from being located on small islands, as stated in Law 2 of 2007, Letter K, Article 35 in conjunction with Law 1 of 2004. The law seeks to prohibit mineral mining in regions if mining is technically, environmentally, socially and/or or culturally creates ecological damage, pollutes the environment or causes damage to the surrounding community.
The nickel industry has largely failed to comply with this Indonesian law, and Indonesia’s nickel mines often operate on small islands that are vulnerable to irreparable damage.
As a result of mining pollution, Kawasi Village, one of the oldest villages on Obi Island, no longer has a source of water due to the expansion of the mine. The Toduku River, which is outside the community’s residence and is often used for basic life activities such as drinking, bathing, washing and playing, is now filled with nickel ore waste sediment. The Kawasi village community has to resort to consuming bottled water.
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