The hidden face of aluminum in India

By Neus Navarro, junior consultant at AmbTu

Neus begins his work stage at AmbTu in October 2021, having just finished his sociology degree. Highly sensitized by social problems, she focuses her Final Degree Project (TFG) on the effects of public purchase of raw materials, providing as an example the purchase of such a daily material as aluminum. Her work wins the award for the best TFG in Sustainable Development and Global Justice from the Autonomous Solidarity Foundation of the UAB (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona).

We live in a society where the use of materials such as aluminum is generalized to all daily aspects. Surely if you think you can cite more than ten elements that you see daily that contain some piece of aluminum. The streetlights that illuminate us in the street at night, the different types of transport we use, the office and school materials with which we work, the mobile phones with which we communicate, etc.

But where does aluminum come from? What path does it take before reaching the hands of consumers?

Due to its properties, aluminum is one of the most used minerals in the manufacture of multiple materials. But before reaching the hands of consumers, this material goes through a journey in its supply chain and, in the different phases of this, various risks and impacts are found, both on a social and environmental scale. Uncovering these violations and taking them into consideration is extremely important for public purchasing and socially responsible consumption.

This article exposes these risks and impacts derived from extractive mining of the raw material for aluminium, bauxite. Through the report that I carried out as my final degree project in sociology in collaboration with the Barcelona City Council in the Directorate of Global Justice and International Cooperation. “The hidden face of aluminum in India” addresses from the social problem of rights violations in countries of the global south in the early stages of product traceability, in this article we want to shed light on these. I focus on the territory of India, since it is one of the main exporting countries of Bauxite.

Below I explain the four main risks:


The first risk factor to consider is the existence of a widespread problem with corruption in the natural resource sector in India. The mining industry, in general, is characterized by a lack of supervision and transparency; with little information disclosed on the terms of government contracts (NRGI). Highlighting notably high risks of corruption in public procurement and in the natural resources sector. Companies identify public procurement in India as especially vulnerable to corruption (ICS 2016).


The next risk to expose is highly worrying, since there are multiple violations of the human rights of the Indian population. The vulnerability of community impact is present due to the fact that the mining sector in India has very weak legislation and supervision, which generates large-scale corruption, environmental pollution and human rights violations. According to Amnesty International, the rights of indigenous groups are violated. When mines are expanded, the government does not guarantee the relocation of vulnerable indigenous communities. The Blacksmith Institute found that in the countries they researched, nearly 7 million people’s health is at risk from mineral extraction and processing locations. People who live in the vicinity of these places can come into contact with hazardous contaminants through inhalation of contaminated dust, ingestion of contaminated water and food, or skin contact with contaminated water. Social problems can arise as a result of immigration: new job opportunities at a mine may require language and technical skills that the local indigenous population does not have. This can lead to labor disputes between the local population and migrant workers, since the local population does not benefit from the presence of the mine.


The following risks to consider are linked to workers’ rights, in this sense, the ITUC Global Rights Index states that this country is one of the ten most difficult countries for workers in terms of trade union rights. Still, forced labor is India’s biggest human trafficking problem. According to the Fair Wear Foundation, there are 8 million people who are forced to work in India. Furthermore, there are strong indications that India has the highest number of child laborers in the world. According to the Fair Wear Foundation there are 14 million children working. Ultimately in India, the indigenous population (adivasis), the casteless (dalits), women and children and religious minorities are the most frequent victims of human rights violations and discrimination, especially in rural areas. Additionally, rape, domestic violence, dowry-related deaths, honor killings, and sexual harassment of women are serious problems in India.


To finish the four spheres where the most relevant risks are located for Indian society in reference to aluminum mining, I expose the risks that this industry poses for the environment related to social impact. Mining and oil production can affect water resources in two ways. First, large amounts of water are needed for many mining operations, from drilling to washing ores. Second, mining processes can pollute water, both from the addition of chemicals and from the waste products of the mining process itself, which can also clog and block rivers and streams. In India, one billion people live under severe scarcity of fresh water for at least one month of the year. Of these, 180 million people face severe water shortages throughout the year. Nearly 70% of India’s water is polluted. A major cause is the amount of sewage generated by cities and towns along polluted stretches and industrial waste from small and large businesses. In view of the population increase, the demand for fresh water for all uses will be unmanageable in the future.

IN SUMMARY, high levels of corruption are found in public contracting in the natural resources sector; In addition, there is a great lack of transparency and supervision of the mining industry. Secondly, human rights are seriously violated, especially in the violation of the fundamental rights of indigenous groups and in the safety and health of the population close to the mines. There are also multiple very serious violations of labor rights, such as the lack of freedom of association and the rights of workers, severe damage to the health of workers, repeated cases of forced labor where the most harmed are children. and women due to their condition and with the aggravating circumstance of cases of human trafficking. In the last place, in a position of moderate risk, but also with its pertinent relevance, are the social risks caused directly by infractions on the environment; as they are the example of the lack of hydric resources, and in addition to contaminated waters of the neighboring populations.