26 April 2023

Greenpeace targets Hyundai: “75 of its excavators are at the service of deforestation in the Amazon”


The accusation by the environmental organization: in the Amazon, gold miners use the Korean manufacturer’s vehicles to destroy indigenous community lands. “Now Hyundai should cooperate with the Brazilian government.”

by Matteo Cavallito


Heavy machinery manufactured by Korean company HD Hyundai Construction Equipment is being used for illegal gold mining in areas of native communities. This is the accusation made by Greenpeace East Asia in a report released in recent weeks. The focus is on lands of the Kayapó, Munduruku and Yanomami peoples in particular. Which alone account for more than 90 percent of the indigenous territories degraded by illegal mining in the Brazilian Amazon.

“A total of 75 Hyundai excavators were identified on their Territories. The scale of this destructive activity has exploded in the Amazon forest in recent years,” says a statement released by the environmental organization. “Between 2019 and 2021, the average area destroyed by mining within Indigenous Lands was 202% larger than the average of the previous ten years.”

Hyundai vehicles are the most popular

Flying over the area of operations, Greenpeace found that Hyundai constituted by far the most popular brand of excavators used in illegal mining. Of the 176 vehicles detected, 43 percent had been manufactured by the Korean company. The survey also found that Hyundai’s authorized dealers have recently opened facilities near the indigenous lands most affected by illegal mining.

“The use of heavy machinery has been fundamental in the explosive expansion of illegal mining on Indigenous Lands,” said Danicley de Aguiar, senior activist with Greenpeace’s Brazilian branch.

“The excavators – he said – have multiplied the exploration capacity and can do, in a matter of hours, a job that would take weeks to be done manually. Hyundai machines are being used to destroy, at an alarming rate, a vital ecosystem not just for the Indigenous Peoples who live on these Lands, but for the entire planet. Hyundai must put the planet above its profits and prevent its excavators from being used on Indigenous Territories and protected areas.”

Indigenous lands under attack

According to the report over the past 36 years, the area under extractive activity in Brazil has increased by 1107% leading to the degradation of 212,504 hectares of land by 2021. More than 90% of the phenomenon has occurred in the Amazon. This, Greenpeace continues, directly impacts the lives of the native peoples who have always inhabited these areas and who derive the resources necessary for their livelihood from them.

Also under indictment, inevitably, is the policy of former President Jair Bolsonaro, who in 2020 supported the introduction of a law allowing mining on indigenous lands without prior consultation with local people.

A research by the Instituto Escolhas pointed out that between 2015 and 2020, Brazil traded 229 tons of gold with “evidence of illegality.” This is almost half of the total produced and exported by the country. 54 percent of the illicit gold came from the Amazon, particularly from the states of Mato Grosso (26 percent) and Pará (24 percent).

Company’s role

The operations of Hyundai, which has received awards in the past for its environmental, social and corporate governance commitments, are booming in Brazil, the British newspaper Guardian said. The growth of its presence in the country, then pointed out Daul Jang, an expert from Greenpeace East Asia’s Seoul office, “shows they are profiting from the sale of construction heavy machinery to the Brazilian market, including the Amazon.”

In 2020, the Guardian continues, Brazilian authorities investigated the liability of heavy machinery manufacturers and suppliers for the damage caused by their equipment used by illegal miners. At the time, Greenpeace said, Hyundai had not provided information on measures taken to limit this phenomenon.

“HD Hyundai group including HD HCE has committed to combating climate change, environmental protection and ethical management,” Jang added. “Its CEO and President, Ki-sun Chung, needs to show his new leadership to cooperate with the Brazilian government and society to eradicate illegal mining in the Amazon rainforest as soon as possible.” This cooperation, he added, could be “the first good example for other companies selling their heavy machinery for illegal mining.”