Mighty Earth challenges General Motors to live up to climate and human rights commitments

Sydney Jones

Press Secretary

[email protected]

Carole Mitchell

Sr. Director Communications

[email protected]

Local coalition highlights GM’s environmental impact on both Michigan residents and global communities 

Letter

 06/15 Press release  02/14 Press release  02/24 Press release

(Detroit, MI) – A dozen Michigan-based environmental and social justice organizations have joined Mighty Earth to release a letter calling on General Motors (GM) to decarbonize its material supply and stop polluting local communities. The letter follows a new report released by Mighty Earth, “GM Wants ‘Everybody In’ on Greenwashing,” which reveals how GM is failing to live up to its own stated ambitions to achieve carbon neutrality and ensure that human rights are not violated in its value chain. 

The letter welcomes GM’s commitment to ending tail-pipe emissions by 2035 and being carbon neutral by 2040, but highlights GM and the company’s suppliers’ dubious record in the state of Michigan. From the hazardous waste cleanup at the Buick City Facility in Flint to the Tribar hexavalent chromium spill in the Huron River, the letter notes that the people of Michigan experience the daily environmental toll of GM’s presence in the state. The letter also mentions GM awarding the steel company Cleveland Cliffs as “supplier of the year” for a sixth consecutive year, even though Cleveland Cliffs agreed in 2022 to pay $3 million in fines for spilling cyanide and ammonia into Lake Michigan.  

Em Perry, Environmental Justice Director at Michigan United said:   

“For over one hundred years GM has been a part of Michigan. Unfortunately, this has meant it is the people of Michigan who feel the pain of layoffs and environmental degradation caused by GM. If GM wants ‘everybody in’ on the company’s plan to go carbon neutral, let’s start by protecting Michigan’s environment and not rewarding serial polluters like Cleveland Cliffs.” 

The environmental and human costs of GM’s material supply chain can be felt far beyond Michigan’s border. As the letter notes, in 2021, GM delivered 2.9 million vehicles in China, and reports released in 2022 connected GM to aluminum and steel producers in the Xinjiang region of China using forced Uyghur labor. The steel and aluminum sectors are responsible for 8% and 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions annually respectively and the auto sector accounts for 12% of global steel use and 18% of all aluminum consumed worldwide in 2019.   As a global leader in the auto industry GM is uniquely positioned to lead the industry transition to clean aluminum and steel for electric vehicles by committing to only source from producers using renewable energy and free of forced labor. 

Violation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights 

Additionally, the letter highlights GM’s $650 million investments in Lithium Americas Corp to help the company develop its Thacker Pass lithium mine project, which violates Indigenous Peoples’ rights and free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) and is widely opposed by the People of Red Mountain. A recent report from Human Rights Watch identified Indigenous communities in Guinea, Ghana, Malaysia, and Australia who experienced the loss of land, polluted waters, and loss of livelihoods from bauxite mining, a critical component of aluminum. 

Matthew Groch, Senior Director at Mighty Earth said: 

“There is no way that GM can live up to its carbon-neutral commitments without taking meaningful action to decarbonize its material supply chain starting with steel and aluminum. From the local pollution caused by Cleveland Cliffs to the forced Uyghur labor in China to desecrating the ancestral lands of the People of Red Mountain, every place that GM’s material supply chain touches, the people and the planet suffer.”     

The ability of GM to meet its climate and human rights commitments and respect the communities of Michigan is deeply intertwined with the decarbonization of its material supply chain. As a global leader in the automotive industry and a major consumer of steel and aluminum, the letter calls on GM to:  

  • Adopt specific annual targets for purchases of carbon-free aluminum, reaching zero-carbon aluminum emissions by 2027. 
  • Commit to procure, specify or stock 50% net zero steel by 2030. 
  • Join global initiatives supporting value chain emission reductions, including ResponsibleSteel and the Aluminum Stewardship Initiative.    
  • Commit to ending the sourcing from any steel or aluminum supplier connected to human rights violations or the exploitation of Indigenous lands or people. 
  • Develop a public plan to assess human rights risks regularly, including at the bauxite mining, alumina refining, and smelting level.  
  • Publicly disclose information regarding its steel and aluminum supply chains, including mines, refineries, and smelters. 
  • Commit to supporting manufacturers with strong labor standards to help grow domestic manufacturing of clean technology parts and materials.   
  • Commit to an equitable transition to electric vehicle (EV) production for Michigan workers including the reshoring of EV manufacturing jobs.  

Partner Quotes:  

Andrew Kaplowitz, Climate and Energy Justice Lead at Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice said:  

“GM is polluting our neighborhoods here in Detroit while one in four households don’t even own a car. They’re taking advantage of workers all over the world and Black and Indigenous communities feel that effect more than anyone else. We don’t have to choose between good jobs and healthy communities and it’s time that GM puts people before profits.”  

 

Rev. Sharon Buttry (MSW) of Detroit Hamtramck Coalition for Advancing Healthy Environments said:  

 

“We expect GM to be a global leader in addressing the climate crisis by examining every aspect of the supply chain for a just and sustainable future.” 

 

Organizational Signers 

 

Detroit Hamtramck Coalition for Advancing Healthy Environments 

Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation 

Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice 

Earth Walk  

Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint 

Michigan Environmental Council 

Michigan League of Conservation Voters 

Michigan United 

Michigan Alliance for Justice In Climate (MAJIC)  

Mighty Earth 

Mixto Communications 

Sierra Club Michigan Chapter 

Vote Solar Michigan 

 

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