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18 Aug 2023

Peter S. Goodman and Ulet Ifansasti, The New York Times

Indonesia: Chinese nickel smelters boost jobs but fuel pollution and tensions, says media

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"China’s Nickel Plants in Indonesia Created Needed Jobs, Plus Pollution" 18 August 2023

For most of his 57 years on the island of Sulawesi, Jamal was accustomed to scarcity, modest expectations and a grim shortage of jobs...

Then, six years ago, a towering smelter rose next to his home. The factory was built by a company called PT Dragon Virtue Nickel Industry, a subsidiary of a Chinese mining giant, Jiangsu Delong Nickel.

Indonesia had recently banned exports of raw nickel to attract investment into processing plants. Chinese companies arrived in force, erecting scores of smelters. They were eager to secure nickel for factories at home that needed the mineral to make batteries for electric vehicles...

Mr. Jamal got a job building dormitory blocks for laborers who were arriving from other parts of Sulawesi...His son-in-law got hired at the smelter...

He and his family complain about the dust pouring off piles of waste, the belching smokestacks, and trucks rumbling past at all hours bearing fresh ore. “What can we do?” Mr. Jamal said. “The air is not good, but we have better living standards.”


Much of the nickel was headed north to the Morowali Industrial Park, an empire of 50 factories sprawling across nearly 10,000 acres that operates like a gated city..Roughly 6,000 workers from China live in dormitory blocks..


Ernianti Salim, 20, has been studying Chinese — first, to help her mother sell fruits and vegetables, and then to burnish her chances of landing a job at a nearby factory. She was earning about 150,000 rupiah per month (about $10) doing laundry, but hoped to multiply her pay 25-fold with an entry-level factory job. “I have more hope now,” Ms. Ernianti said.

But behind the smelter, farmers complained that their hopes had been extinguished. Early this year, just after Rosmini Bado planted her crop, her land was swamped by a major storm. Before the factory was built, she could have drained the water. Not anymore. The concrete wall directed the flow back to her parcel, destroying a crop worth 18 million rupiah (about $1,200)...Her husband and son have been unable to secure work at the factory.

Throughout the nickel belt of Sulawesi, local employees are aware that they earn far less than their Chinese counterparts, many of them supervisors...


“It’s unfair,” said Mr. Jamal. “Indonesian workers work harder, while Chinese workers just point and tell them what to do.”

Sometimes-violent protests mounted by local workers have prompted crackdowns by the police and an Indonesian military unit...

Part of the following timelines

Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP)

Indonesia: Delong Nickel Industrial Area in Sulawesi