Tesla highlights rights of uncontacted tribes in report – a “wake-up call” for businesses and governments

May 23, 2024

In recent footage, two uncontacted Hongana Manyawa men warned bulldozer operators to stay off their territory. © Anon

Tesla announced today that the company is exploring “the need for the establishment of a no-go zone for mining to protect indigenous and human rights, particularly those of uncontacted communities”, demonstrating that the rights of uncontacted Indigenous peoples can be a major business concern, campaigners say.

Tesla’s statement linking the rights of uncontacted Indigenous peoples to the need for a “no-go zone” — where no mining or other activities can take place — is the latest sign that global pressure over the rights of such peoples is having an impact on companies’ supply chain decisions. 

Tesla's announcement in its 2023 Impact Report is featured in a chapter about social and environmental impacts in Indonesia, and has huge implications for nickel mining in the country. It follows a Survival International campaign highlighting how the world’s biggest nickel mine, operated by Weda Bay Nickel (WBN) in Indonesia, could wipe out the uncontacted Indigenous Hongana Manyawa people

An Indigenous Hongana Manyawa man who has uncontacted relatives in the forest gave Survival a message for electric vehicle companies and those who buy electric cars: “This is the message directly from the forest, please don't destroy our forest, we need it.”

The WBN mine, in Halmahera, is a joint venture between French mining company Eramet and Chinese company Tsingshan, and is the subject of widespread criticism for operating on the territory of uncontacted Hongana Manyawa people without their consent. WBN, which commenced operation in 2019 and is intending to operate for many decades to come, is seeking to produce materials for electric car companies. Eramet is in talks with German chemical giant BASF to process nickel for electric car batteries.

The rainforests of Halmahera Island, home to the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa, are being rapidly destroyed for nickel mining. © Eramet

Tesla, which is not currently sourcing nickel from WBN, made clear that it expects its suppliers to only operate on Indigenous people’s lands with their Free, Prior and Informed Consent. This is impossible to obtain from uncontacted peoples, as explicitly recognised by the UN and the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA).

The Tesla statement follows a recent decision by major Italian leather manufacturer Pasubio to change suppliers after campaigners revealed some of its leather was sourced from illegal cattle ranches on uncontacted Ayoreo people’s lands in Paraguay. Survival had launched a complaint against Pasubio under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

More than 20,000 Survival supporters around the world have emailed Eramet, BASF, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and others, calling on the companies to take a stand against nickel and cobalt mining on the territory of the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa in Halmahera.

Caroline Pearce, Survival International’s Director, said today: “This is a huge wake-up call. Survival has been pointing out for years that mining, ranching, and oil and gas drilling on the lands of uncontacted Indigenous peoples are not just a violation of Indigenous rights, but a human disaster that brings disease, death and even genocide. Now that public awareness and concern is mounting, companies and governments cannot keep ignoring this — as recent statements by Pasubio and now Tesla make abundantly clear.

“The situation for the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa is particularly stark and urgent: they have not given, and cannot give, their consent to the destruction of their forest, and if mining companies persist in tearing up their land, they risk wiping them out totally. No company can source mineral from the land of the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa without risking being complicit in genocide. Eramet, BASF and the other companies involved must put in place a no-go zone for mining to avert disaster before it is too late.”


Notes to Editors: 

1. Out of a total population of approximately 3,000 Hongana Manyawa people, between 300 and 500 are uncontacted, and could be wiped out. Mining destroys their rainforest home, and the mine workers bring diseases for which the uncontacted people have no immunity. 

2. Survival is calling on all electric vehicle companies, including BMW, Volkswagen, and BYD, to commit to not source any materials from uncontacted tribes’ territories and for Tesla to make this their formal policy.

3. In recent years, the Indonesian government has been trying to attract Tesla to invest in their nickel market. Tesla’s statement is likely to cause shockwaves in Indonesia. 

4. The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) Standard, which Eramet and BASF claim to uphold, has strong wording on the rights of uncontacted tribes and specifically states that ‘IRMA will not certify a mine if affected communities include indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation [uncontacted]’.

5. Tesla does not specifically mention WBN in its suppliers list or elsewhere in the impact report but WBN’s mine aims to produce materials for the electric vehicle market. 

Hongana Manyawa