The local communities continue to struggle to protect their lives, including their farmland and clean water, from PT Vale Indonesia’s (PTVI) nickel expansion project in Indonesia. At the same time, serious human rights violations continue against the farmers who are demanding that their farmlands be excluded from the mining concessions.
Today, FoE Japan, together with the Indonesian Environmental Forum (WALHI) South Sulawesi and others, submitted a letter to the major shareholders of its parent company, Vale (Capital Group, Previ, Mitsui & Co., BlackRock), and PTVI (Sumitomo Metal Mining, Government of Norway). In the letter (endorsed by 104 organizations, including those working at international and regional levels plus organizations working nationally in 23 countries) , we request for engagement with PTVI to take prompt and appropriate measures to protect the human rights of local communities affected by Sorowako Nickel Project.
For more than 50 years since the nickel development by PT Vale Indonesia (formerly PT INCO) started in Sorowako, local community, including indigenous people, farmers, fisherfolk, women, have faced a wide range of problems in the development site of its vast concession area (70,566 hectares). In recent years, as the demand for battery materials has increased as part of efforts to achieve a decarbonized society, the pressure for development in Sorowako, ranging from plans to build a new smelter to exploration and expansion of the mine, has rather increased, and the concerns and problems faced by the local community also continue to grow.
Since the PTVI has caused serious impacts on the community’s livelihood and water source, the community have been raising their voice to PTVI. However, the company has failed to take appropriate and immediate action to address these issues to date. The involvement of Indonesian authorities, including the police and military, in attempts to silence the community, is also greatly concerned and a serious violation of human rights.
For local communities affected by the Sorowako Nickel project to be able to continue farming, to maintain a healthy life, and to freely express opposition and concern – all of these are basic human rights. Vale and PTVI’s major shareholders must take responsible action in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to ensure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
For more information, please see the following letter of request. (Click here for PDF)
Re: Call for Prompt and Appropriate Action to Urge PT Vale to Take Measures to Protect the Basic Human Rights of Local Communities Surrounding Sorowako Nickel Project
August 18, 2023
To: Major investors holding shares in Vale / PT Vale Indonesia
We are civil society organizations that address the environmental, social, and human rights issues with the local communities affected by PT Vale Indonesia’s (PTVI) Sorowako Nickel Project in East Luwu, South Sulawesi, Indonesia (the Project). Today we are sending this call for engagement to you as one of the major investors in Vale, a parent company of PTVI, or as one of the major investors in PTVI, so that you can prevent yourself from being complicit in human rights violations in the Project, as described below.
For more than 50 years since the nickel development by PT International Nickel Indonesia (PT INCO) started in Sorowako, local community, including indigenous people, farmers, fisherfolk, women, have faced a wide range of problems in the development site of its vast concession area (70,566 hectares). In recent years, as the demand for battery materials has increased as part of efforts to achieve a decarbonized society, the pressure for development in Sorowako, ranging from plans to build a new smelter to exploration and expansion of the mine, has rather increased, and the concerns and problems faced by the local community also continue to grow.
Firstly, farmland, an important means of livelihood for the residents of the area surrounding the Sorowaco mine, has been deprived with each expansion of the nickel mine. Within the concession area, farmers were forced to leave when the PTVI mining area was extended to farmland. Even when compensation was paid, some farmers reported that it was never enough considering the labor, fertilizers, and other necessary expenses they had invested in cultivating their farmland. In the first place, monetary compensation is not a sustainable measure, since it ends when it is used up. There are also reports of cases where the level and conditions of compensation are not consistent, including cases where there is no compensation at all, leading to the division of communities.
Because of the overlap between the PTVI concession area and the farmland, there have been threats and harassment of farmers by police and security guards to evict them from the PTVI land. Farmers continue to cultivate their land in fear that the land they have worked so hard to cultivate might be deprived of them at any moment.
With respect to the Tanamalia block, where PTVI is currently conducting exploration activities, exploration is proceeding without proper community consultation, and farmers are calling for the exploration to be halted. In the Sorowako area, pepper cultivation has brought enormous benefits to the community over the past 20 years. For pepper farmers, including women, and those engaged in pepper-related economic activities, the expansion of the mine at the Tanamalia block is a serious concern that threatens their lives. It is the desperate hope of the farmers that these farmlands be excluded from the PTVI concession area so that they can continue to farm.
Secondly, Environmental pollution around the Sorowako mine has also threatened the lives of the local community. In February 2023, community members in Asuli village, Towuti district, raised a protest demanding prompt action by PTVI when spring water nearby that the community used as a water source not only turned brown and muddy when it rains, but the water source itself dried up during dry season. The community testified that such water problems had never occurred before the mining operation started nearby. On top of that, hexavalent chromium exceeding the drinking water quality standards by the guidelines for drinking-water quality by World Health Organization (WHO) (0.05 mg/L), and the water quality standards for drinking water by the Indonesian government (0.05 mg/L) was found in theiris water source, when FoE Japan and WALHI South Sulawesi conducted water testing in October 2022. To date, PTVI has failed to provide clean and safe water to the community after more than five months since the community’s complaint.
In the above-mentioned Tanamalia block, where exploration activities are ongoing, according to pepper farmers in the area, there are at least tens of springs, and the impact not only on the community but also on the ecosystem of the rainforest area, including the flora and fauna that live there, is a major concern.
The access to clean and safe water is one of the basic human rights of the local community, including women and children. With regard to environmental pollution around the project site caused by hexavalent chromium, a highly toxic heavy metal that is a known carcinogen and also causes liver and skin damages, it is important to take a prompt and proactive measure in order to prevent any health damage to the local community in the long-term.
Finally, it is crucial not to overlook the fact that the “freedom of expression" of the local communities, who have been raising their voices to PTVI to improve its measures in order to protect their lives, has been suppressed.
In March 2022, seven residents were unjustly arrested and detained, causing financial and mental hardships for them and their families, when they protested, calling on PTVI to respect the rights of indigenous peoples, ensure access to clean water, respect the rights to farmland, and secure employment opportunities for the youth population. In February 2023 when the above-mentioned community in Asuli village made protest actions, the community had to stop their protest due to the intervention or intimidation by local authorities, such as police and intelligence who summoned a community leader and told him to stop their protest.
Likewise, in June and July 2023, the farmers, who were urging PTVI to stop its exploration in the Tanamalia block, confirmed the presence of military and heavily armed police officers there. This clearly shows that PTVI prefers using repressive methods and ignores any process to obtain consent from the community with proper consultations. Following this suppressive situation at the local level, the Indonesian Military Regional Command even visited and interrogated the WALHI South Sulawesi office in Makassar, who has been assisting the farmers.
This serious violation of the “freedom of expression" of residents, including indigenous peoples, should not be tolerated. As the investor of the Vale-invested nickel development project in Sorowako, your company is required to take appropriate measures to avoid complicity in such human rights violations.
In light of the above, we request that your company take prompt and appropriate action to ensure that PTVI takes the following actions;
- To exclude the entire Tanamalia block from the concession, as the area is consist of the farmland, where the local communities depend for their livelihood, and rainforest ecosystem / landscape as endemic Sulawesi fauna and flora;
- To exclude farmland, where local communities depend on for their livelihoods, and adequate buffer zones from the area to be mined (including the Tanamalia block currently under exploration);
- To take immediate and appropriate remedial measures to ensure clean and safe water access for the local communities. Also, develop and make public a plan to prevent recurrence of problems related to water access;
- To stop nickel mining activities in essential ecosystem areas, such as forests and river areas, especially upstream, and in community water sources area, in order to prevent toxic pollution in the future;
- To restore the environment in river areas and community water sources areas;
- To respect the local community’s human rights to health and living, including access to clean and safe water;
- To respect the freedom of expression of the community affected by its nickel projects.
For local communities affected by the Sorowako Nickel project to be able to continue farming, to maintain a healthy life, and to freely express opposition and concern – all of these are basic human rights. We look forward to your company’s sincere response according to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
LIST OF SIGNATORIES
This letter is signed by 104 organizations, including those working at international and regional levels plus organizations working nationally in 23 countries.
WALHI South Sulawesi
Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WALHI / FoE Indonesia)
Friends of the Earth Japan
Pacific Asia Resource Center, Japan
please see the PDF.
- Statement by Loeha-Mahalona Pepper Farmers’ Association: “Pernyataan Sikap Mayarakat (Petani dan Perempuan) Loeha Raya Menolak Aktivitas Eksplorasi dan Perluasan Tambang PT Vale Indonesia di Blok Tanamalia, Kecamatan Towuti, Kabupaten Luwu Timur” (July 24, 2023)
WALHI South Sulawesi (Muhammad Al Amin, Executive Director)
Add: JL. Aroepala, Kompleks Permata Hijau Lestari Blok Q1, No.8, Rappocini, Kota Makassar, Sulawesi Selatan 90221
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Friends of the Earth Japan (Hozue Hatae, Development Finance and Environment Team)
Add: 1-21-9 Komone, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo, Japan 173-0037
Tel: +81 3 6909 5983