1 of 3 | Hyundai announced Friday that it would work to prevent its heavy machinery from being used for illegal mining in the Amazon rainforest. Photo by Christian Braga/Greenpeace
SEOUL, April 28 (UPI) -- Hyundai announced it would take steps to prevent its heavy machinery from being used for illegal mining in the Amazon, the company announced Friday, in the wake of a report by environmental group Greenpeace that exposed the widespread utilization of its excavators for gold mining in Indigenous territories.
In a statement, HD Hyundai Construction Equipment said it would stop selling heavy machinery in the Brazilian states of Amazonas, Roraima and Pará until it can strengthen its sales process and compliance system. The company also announced it would terminate its contract with a local dealership, BMG, which facilitated sales to illegal miners.
Hyundai added that it would do "as much as possible to protect the Amazon environment and Indigenous people, and cooperate with the Brazilian government to the extent necessary for this purpose."
In a report released earlier this month, Greenpeace said that at least 75 excavators made by Hyundai were being used for illegal gold mining in the Yanomami, Munduruku and Kayapó protected Indigenous territories between 2021 and March 2023. The Hyundai machines accounted for 43% of the total discovered during flyovers by Greenpeace investigators, making them the most popular brand for miners.
Heavy equipment has helped gold mining on Indigenous lands grow by almost 500% over the past 12 years, Greenpeace said, accelerating deforestation and causing severe damage to the environment and livelihoods of local residents.
Daul Jang, advocacy specialist at Greenpeace East Asia's Seoul office, called Hyundai's announcement "a very meaningful decision by a global corporation to be part of the solution for the destructive environmental problem in the Amazon."
Jang told UPI that the environmental group hopes Hyundai's decisions will spur other equipment manufacturers to follow suit, but added that solving the issue will require a wide-ranging collaborative effort.
"To fundamentally eradicate illegal gold mining in the Amazon, we need close cooperation among the Brazilian government and the manufacturers and sellers of the heavy machinery together with civil society and Indigenous people," he said.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has emphasized his support for the country's Indigenous people, in stark contrast to his right-wing, populist predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, who hobbled environmental protections and pushed to legalize mining in protected areas of the Amazon rainforest.
In January 2023, Lula visited Yanomami territory and declared a medical emergency after hundreds of children had died from malnutrition.
He called the treatment of the Yanomami a "genocide" by Bolsonaro, under whose watch the number of illegal miners on their protected lands swelled to 20,000. In addition to deforestation, gold mining operations have led to toxic mercury runoff that has poisoned rivers and food supplies.
Greenpeace and other watchdog groups are calling for additional measures to curb illegal mining with excavators, such as GPS tracking and remote monitoring technology used in coordination with strengthened government regulations and enforcement.
"There is clear political will with the new [Lula] government, and one of the major manufacturers is ready to cooperate," Jang said. "So we hope this cooperation will come up with the best solution."
HD Hyundai did not respond to UPI's request for additional comment as of press time.