The Japanese government’s new business and human rights guidelines mean the Japanese car industry must step up efforts to clean up their supply chains.
Japanese automakers are gradually embracing the shift to electric vehicles, which could help shrink the country’s destructive climate footprint. Although Japan gets more than two-thirds of its electricity from fossil fuels, electric cars still have a smaller carbon footprint than gas-powered vehicles.
However, when it comes to human rights, electric vehicles are problematic. The materials needed for car batteries and other parts are linked to global human rights and environmental damage. Japan’s three biggest carmakers – Toyota, Nissan and Honda – all scored poorly on the 2020 Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, which ranks companies according to their global human rights performance.
My research has documented the human rights impact of producing aluminum, a key material for electric vehicles. Mining for bauxite, the mineral needed to make aluminum, has driven poor farmers off their land in Guinea, West Africa, and destroyed communities’ water sources. Aluminum production, which relies heavily on coal power, is responsible for about 3 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.
Japan’s new business and human rights guidelines, published on September 13, are not binding and need significant improvement, but make it clear that Japanese companies must identify human rights abuses in supply chain and work with their suppliers to fix them.
Last year, Human Rights Watch wrote to Toyota and 11 other global carmakers about their links to human rights abuses in their aluminum supply chains. In response to our letter, Toyota referred us to their responsible sourcing standards, but would not comment on “individual transactions in the supply chain.” This was in contrast to eight other car companies who met with us to discuss our research. Since then, at least four have put pressure on their suppliers to improve.
Toyota is one of the largest car manufacturers in the world and, like other car manufacturers in Japan, can have a big impact on protecting human rights and the environment if they decide to do so. Japan’s new business and human rights guidelines should be all the fuel carmakers need to accelerate compliance with human rights.
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