Global Witness and ARIA research reveals the steel giant’s Indian joint venture bought three cargoes from Russian-owned firms in late 2023, including one whose parent company has since been sanctioned by the US.

Mauro Longobardo, CEO of ArcelorMittal’s Ukraine steelmaking plant, stands in front of a covered statue. He tells his audience, including several dressed in military fatigues: “This memorial is [for] eternal glory to the soldiers, employees of ArcelorMittal.”

The sheet comes off, revealing a statue depicting a soldier and a labourer. Dozens of names are inscribed on its base. For those attending, the memorial is a poignant reminder of the thousands of colleagues who have fought in the war. Many have died: the steelmaker has posted 36 obituaries to fallen employees this year.

The statue could just as well stand testament to ArcelorMittal’s hypocrisy. Global Witness and ARIA analysis of customs records and shipping data reveals that the steelmaker’s Indian joint venture imported coal worth $21 million from Russian-owned firms at the end of 2023. And Indian customs data suggests that the total value for similar purchases since Moscow’s invasion could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

These shipments are closely linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine. One of the cargoes was delivered in October by the UAE subsidiary of the Russian firm SUEK. The US sanctioned the mining group in February, citing in its measures that the company counted Moscow’s Ministry of Defense among its biggest customers.

These imports did not breach sanctions, because India has not imposed an embargo on coal. But through its joint venture’s purchases of coal from Russia, Luxembourg-headquartered ArcelorMittal is in effect funding an industry contributing to the Kremlin’s war effort.

ArcelorMittal says that since the start of the war in Ukraine, it took steps to ensure that all of its wholly-owned subsidiaries suspended their business with Russia and that “today none conduct any trade with Russian entities”. Nonetheless, it made no such claim for its jointly operated Indian steelmaking business, ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel (AM/NS India).

ArcelorMittal also claims it has donated more than 650 million Ukrainian hryvnia ($17m) in military and humanitarian aid since Moscow’s invasion. This gesture is, however, eclipsed by the $21m of coal shipments.

For ArcelorMittal, Russian coal is a European problem

Global Witness and ARIA analysis of customs records and shipping data reveals that AM/NS India, a joint venture in India with Japanese steelmaker Nippon Steel, made these purchases. ArcelorMittal is the majority owner, holding 60% of the shares.

Customs and shipping data show that each of the three voyages set off from Russian ports for India where they deposited a collective 170,000 tonnes of coal in Hazira, Vishakhapatnam, and Paradeep.

AM/NS India has a steel plant in Hazira, alongside facilities in Vishakhapatnam and Paradeep. All of these units can use coal for manufacturing.

Black Sand Commodities, SUEK’s trading arm in the UAE, and Elsi Overseas, a Singaporean company that was ultimately Russian-majority owned, are recorded in customs data as the exporters of these cargoes.

Official Indian government records put the value of these deliveries, which arrived in October and November, at 1.8 billion Indian rupees, or $21 million.

It’s possible AM/NS India paid a much larger fee for Russian coal overall. Commodity tracking tools Kpler and LSEG, alongside customs data, show it has imported around 3 million tonnes of coal from Russian ports to Hazira between Moscow’s invasion and March 2024.

The steelmaker’s imports to Hazira from Russia in this period were worth 48 billion Indian rupees ($586 million), according to government and customs data, including the Black Sand Commodities shipment identified. Although Global Witness and ARIA could not verify the origin of these products, these records indicate that trades by subsidiaries of Russian coal miners made up most of this value.

Customs data and bills of lading also appear to show that ArcelorMittal imported Russian coal to its Pecem steelworks in Brazil in 2023.

Of the companies named in this article, only ArcelorMittal and Nippon Steel responded to requests for comments.

ArcelorMittal emphasised its support for its Ukrainian employees who “have been extraordinary” and it applauded “their strength, courage, and commitment.” It said its dedication to them was “a matter of fact.” 

The steelmaker added that it had made considerable effort to support these colleagues since the outbreak of the war, including humanitarian relief efforts and significant financial donations to efforts on the ground by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

It went on to say it followed official Kyiv policy by keeping its plant open in the country and said its wholly-owned subsidiaries no longer trade with Russian entities. But, it did not say the same for AM/NS India. 

Both Nippon Steel, which otherwise declined to comment on the research, and ArcelorMittal said their joint venture runs its business in a manner fully consistent with the policies and laws of the government of India.

In March 2022, one month after the outbreak of the war, ArcelorMittal’s CEO for Europe, Geert Van Poelvoorde, told Bloomberg that it had eliminated Russian commodities from its supply chain. Steel works often use coal in their manufacturing processes or as an energy source to power their units. Bloomberg reported the steelmaker as saying its European operations previously sourced a fifth of its coal from Russia.

The shift is commendable. But, what’s the point if ArcelorMittal’s other factories are picking up those Russian coal orders instead?

ArcelorMittal: Climate change gold medallists?

ArcelorMittal’s coal dealings also contradict its goal for "smarter steels for people and planet," and its attempt to project a role in the energy transition. As an official partner to the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics in Paris, for instance, it is producing torches and rings for the games from “steel with a low CO2 footprint.”

While it tries to tout environmental credentials, ArcelorMittal is actively working to expand coal-based steel production in India as the majority stakeholder of AM/NS India. That joint venture will almost double its production capacity at Hazira by the first half of 2026, from 8.8 to 15 million tonnes of rolled steel products per year, through the construction of two coal-based blast furnaces.

ArcelorMittal said, regarding these plans, that: "No apology is needed for supporting the growth of the Indian economy. Our stakeholders expect us to commit to decarbonising our activities and to do so while continuing to create economic value. That is what we are focused on doing.”

It highlighted its 2050 net zero target, and 2030 CO2 reduction targets, to which it said it remained “wholly committed”. The steelmaker referred Global Witness to its investments in developing new technologies for greener operations, alongside ArcelorMittal’s forays into renewable energy in India. It said Hazira’s blast furnaces have the potential to use hydrogen and to add on carbon capture to reduce emissions. 

But, it added that some of AM/NS India’s decarbonisation plans depended on clean sources becoming cheaper.

However, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) criticised the company’s expansion project in February last year. IEEFA warned that the steelmaker’s plans were at odds with its aims to be net zero by 2050. It argued there were no imminent breakthroughs for carbon capture in coal-based steelmaking and claimed the technology underwhelmed in other industries. 

The research organisation highlighted that India is a key growth market where technology choices have large implications for emissions in the steel sector worldwide.

In addition to essentially undermining its Ukrainian employees through its business dealings with Russian coal, ArcelorMittal is also effectively undercutting global efforts to decarbonise. 

ArcelorMittal Steel Orbit UK 2010

Boris Johnson and Tessa Jowell stand with Lakshmi Mittal, a major shareholder of ArcelorMittal with links to Russian oil. Jeff Moore / Alamy Stock Photo

Mittal: Business first

Back in January, Global Witness and The Sunday Times published an investigation revealing that Lakshmi Mittal, a significant shareholder of ArcelorMittal, jointly owns another business importing Russian oil. 

Mittal is one of Britain’s richest people. He has strong ties with the country via his donations to political parties, both the Conservatives via Boris Johnson and Labour, and has a stake in Queens Park Rangers football club.

He owns 49% of Indian refiner HPCL-Mittal Energy Limited (HMEL), which significantly increased the amount of crude oil it bought from Russia following Moscow’s invasion. Mittal’s son is CEO of ArcelorMittal and is the chairman of its joint venture with Nippon Steel in India, as well as HMEL.

Although HMEL’s oil deals were legal, the investigation highlighted the estimated hundreds of millions of dollars these purchases contributed to the Kremlin in tax revenues while Lakshmi Mittal’s employees in Ukraine suffered.

In response, a spokesperson for Lakshmi Mittal told The Sunday Times that they were disappointed that the investigation connected the two companies together via their shareholder. The spokesperson said the Indian refinery had no business relations with ArcelorMittal and claimed Lakshmi Mittal spoke out on many occasions against the war.

And yet, on closer examination, Lakshmi Mittal appears to be deeply implicated in the Russian fossil fuel trade all around the world.

For Lakshmi Mittal, HMEL, and ArcelorMittal, it seems like business is business. 

This article was written, edited and published by Global Witness. ARIA provided background research and analysis.

Banner image © Dmytro Aliokhin / Alamy Stock Photo