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Fire in nickel smelter Indonesia claims 21 victims

Unions demand safety measures

In late 2023, we were startled by sad news from Indonesia. A fire at a nickel smelter in the IMIP industrial area in Morowali, on the island of Sulawesi, killed 13 workers and seriously injured 46. Several more have succumbed to their injuries, with the death toll reaching 21. Last October, Suzan Cornelissen and Yuni Kurniyatiningsih of CNV Internationaal visited this IMIP industrial area on Sulawesi to see and hear about the terrible working and living conditions. This accident therefore came as a shock, but certainly not a surprise given the appalling conditions.

The Morowali region is Indonesia's largest nickel production region. The demand for nickel has skyrocketed in recent years due to the global energy transition: products such as electric batteries (in cars for example) but also windmills contain nickel. There are now already 11 nickel smelters located in the IMIP industrial park, many of which are owned by Chinese investors.

23 demands

Our partner union, together with other unions, has demanded an investigation into what happened as well as filed 23 demands to improve working conditions. Many safety regulations, for example, are only available in Mandarin, not in Bahasa. Although there are more Indonesian than Chinese workers, they are expected to learn Mandarin.

Furthermore, there is a lack of trained security officers. Medical facilities are also hardly available. For example, victims had to be transported in trucks because there were not enough ambulances. In addition, the unions are demanding that an emergency response team be set up to respond quickly in case of accidents.

The 23 demands now drafted deal mainly with the lack of safety. Other issues, such as the low wages that are too low to live on, poor housing facilities and unpaid overtime, has not yet been taken into account.

IRBC Renewable Energy Agreement

CNV Internationaal is a signatory of the Renewable Energy Covenant. A broad coalition of solar and wind energy companies, industry associations, the Dutch government, knowledge institutes, NGOs and trade unions are working together within this International Responsible Business Agreement to make international production chains for solar and wind energy more sustainable.

The goal of the covenant is to jointly address and prevent risks of human rights violations and environmental damage through cooperation. Let us hope that this covenant, in addition to the new European legislation on Corporate Social Due Diligence CSDDD, will finally ensure that companies take responsibility for their supply chains in 2024. 

What is CNV Internationaal doing?

CNV Internationaal is working on preparations to start supporting a union in the nickel sector in Morowali during 2024. We would like to see that with our support this union can recruit more members and strengthen their organisation. This will allow them to draw more attention to dangerous working conditions and gain better bargaining skills.

Publication date 11 01 2024