Chinese Companies Heavily Invest in Indonesia’s Nickel Sector, Complaints about Working Conditions Abound

Chinese companies have invested more than $14 billion into Indonesia’s nickel sector over the past decade building smelters, refineries, a nickel museum and a new metallurgy school. Nickel’s primary applications are in stainless steel production, but the metal is also key to the fledgling electric vehicle industry because of its use in EV batteries.

With most nations pledging to switch to battery electric cars over the next few decades, nickel is poised to see explosive demand. These Chinese companies have secured the metal’s supply for at least a decade. However, while producing green-transition metals such as nickel and creating job opportunities for local Indonesians is admirable, reports show that these China-funded nickel mines can be incredibly dangerous workplaces.

One 42-year-old Chinese electrician describes how he has seen coworkers die in several workplace accidents and says the experiences have dimmed his view of Chinese mining firms. The electrician worked at two Sulawesi nickel refining hubs as an electrician from 2017 to 2020 and now resides in the United States. Even so, he remains in contact with his former colleagues in the Indonesian nickel sector and says working conditions are still as abhorrent as they were in his day.

China is known for crowded and unsafe working and living conditions, low and unpaid wages, underage workers and excessive work times. According to Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission commissioner Anis Hidayah, both local and foreign workers who mainly come from China lack labor protections. The commission has already launched investigations into the working conditions in Indonesia’s nickel refining industry and will release its findings soon.

A recent report from the nonprofit organization Trend Asia found that Indonesian workers account for the majority of reported workplace deaths in nickel-refining sites for the past eight years. An analysis of news reports revealed that 53 people passed away in workplace accidents from 2015 to 2022; only 13 of them were Chinese while 40 were Indonesians, research manager Zakki Amali says. Amali also notes that the actual number of workplace deaths may be much higher than the figures reported on the news because government authorities haven’t provided official workplace death data for the country’s nickel refining segment.

This data is only the tip of the iceberg, Amali predicts. He believes the government isn’t sharing the rest of the data with the public because it wants the massive investment in the country’s lithium/nickel sector to look positive to both locals and the rest of the world.

As these Chinese companies come under increasing scrutiny for the undesirable employment conditions at their facilities, other nickel producers such as Canada Nickel Company Inc. (TSX.V: CNC) (OTCQX: CNIKF) could deepen their market penetration on the basis of implementing employment conditions that meet international standards.

NOTE TO INVESTORS: The latest news and updates relating to Canada Nickel Company Inc. (TSX.V: CNC) (OTCQX: CNIKF) are available in the company’s newsroom at

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