Amnesty International challenges the electric vehicle industry to produce batteries free of human rights abuses

On 21 March 2019, Amnesty International launched its ethical batteries campaign, challenging leaders in the electric vehicle industry to produce the world's first completely ethical battery, free of human rights abuses within its supply chain, within five years. The organization highlights that electric vehicle batteries currently rely on key minerals - in particular cobalt and lithium - linked to human rights abuses including child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo, environmental pollution, ecosystem destruction and indigenous rights violations. The organization also highlights the high carbon footprint of battery manufacturing and the need for responsible battery waste disposal. In this story, learn more from Amnesty International's press release, slide presentation at the Nordic Electric Vehicle Summit and media coverage of the campaign.

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9 July 2019

DRC: Continued allegations of labour rights violations in electric car supply chain

Author: Henry Sanderson, Financial Times

"Congo, child labour and your electric car", 7 July 2019 

… While the majority of Congo’s cobalt comes from large mining sites… a growing proportion is coming from an estimated 150,000 “artisanal” or informal miners who dig by hand in Kolwezi. The unregulated practice is increasingly drawing in children...

Congo’s dominance presents a growing dilemma for carmakers and those in the supply chain… for electric vehicles and batteries… [A] lot of this activity now takes place within the sites of the large mining groups, including… Glencore and… Molybdenum…

In April BMW … [said] it would source its cobalt for its electric cars from Morocco and Australia and not the DRC… Umicore... announced a long-term deal to buy cobalt from Glencore’s mines... But the deaths of the 43 miners on June 27 at Glencore’s site has increased pressure for a solution because many informal miners operate on land that is part of official concessions. Glencore says about 2,000 informal miners a day trespass on the site of its Kamoto Copper Company…

…Trafigura, which is one of the largest buyers of Congolese cobalt and copper, says artisanal-mined minerals can be a source of supply for carmakers... “Our preference is… to find solutions,” ... “If we can be a bit creative in developing controls then we could avoid the product just dripping out into the market...”

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25 March 2019

Amnesty International denounces carbon-intensive manufacturing and unethical mining in electric vehicle industry

Author: Eric Onstad, Reuters

"Amnesty faults electric vehicle batteries as carbon intensive", 20 March 2019.

Amnesty International attacked the electric vehicle (EV) industry on Thursday for selling itself as environmentally friendly while producing many of its batteries using polluting fossil fuels and unethically sourced minerals...Production of lithium-ion batteries for EVs is power intensive, and factories are concentrated in China, South Korea and Japan, where power generation is largely dependent on coal or other fossil fuels, Amnesty said...Global automakers are investing billions of dollars to ramp up electric vehicle production. German giant Volkswagen for one plans to raise annual production of electric cars to 3 million by 2025, from 40,000 in 2018...Last month, a letter seen by Reuters showed that 14 non-governmental organizations including Amnesty and Global Witness had opposed plans by the London Metal Exchange to ban cobalt tainted by human rights abuses. Instead of banning the cobalt brands, the LME should work with firms that produce them to ensure responsible sourcing, they said.

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25 March 2019

Amnesty International Ethical Batteries press release

Author: Amnesty International

"Amnesty challenges industry leaders to clean up their batteries", 21 March 2019.

Amnesty International is today publicly challenging leaders within the electric vehicle industry to make the world’s first completely ethical battery within five years...lithium-ion batteries, which power electric cars and electronics, are linked to human rights abuses including child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and environmental risks which could undermine their green potential...“The massive global corporations that dominate the electric vehicle industry have the resources and expertise to create energy solutions that are truly clean and is the time for a drastic overhaul of our energy sources that prioritizes protection of human rights and the environment.”...

Amnesty International has documented serious human rights violations linked to the extraction of the minerals used in lithium-ion batteries, particularly in the DRC...Amnesty’s research has linked these mines to the supply chains of many of the world’s leading electronics brands and electric vehicle country legally requires companies to publicly report on their cobalt supply chains. With more than half of the world’s cobalt originating in southern DRC, the chance that the batteries powering electric vehicles are tainted with child labour and other abuses is unacceptably high...In response to Amnesty’s research several leading companies, including Apple, BMW, Daimler, Renault, and the battery manufacturer Samsung SDI, have published data about their supply chains, and the organization is today calling on others to do the same.

Amnesty International has also begun documenting violations of the human rights of Indigenous peoples living near lithium mines in Argentina. Indigenous communities are not being properly consulted about mining projects on their lands and are given insufficient information about the potential impacts of mining on their water sources...

The environmental impact of producing batteries is also a concern. Most of the current manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries is concentrated in China, South Korea and Japan, where electricity generation remains dependent on coal and other polluting sources of power...Meanwhile, rising demand for minerals like cobalt, manganese and lithium has led to a surge in interest in deep-sea mining, which studies predict will have serious and irreversible impacts on biodiversity. 

Amnesty International is also calling on companies to ensure that batteries are disposed of responsibly. There is already significant evidence showing that battery waste from electronics, which contains various hazardous materials, has been irresponsibly disposed of, contaminating soil, water and air...

As a first step, companies should publicly disclose information about how human rights abuses and environmental risks are being prevented, identified and addressed throughout the lithium-ion battery’s lifecycle...

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25 March 2019

Amnesty International Ethical Batteries slide presentation

Author: Amnesty International

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25 March 2019

Electric vehicle users should demand ethical sourcing of battery materials, says industry analyst

Author: Bradley Berman, INSIDEEVs

"Electric Car Drivers Should Boycott Batteries Produced by Child Labor", 22 March 2019.

Amnesty International yesterday made its fiercest argument yet about the questionable ethics of EV batteries. “Electric vehicles are key to shifting the motor industry away from fossil fuels, but they are currently not as ethical as some retailers would like us to believe,” said Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of Amnesty International...The primary concern is cobalt mined by child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)...Amnesty International reported in 2017 that the DRC has thousands of artisanal miners, including 40,000 children who are exploited in cobalt mines...

Tesla anticipated the cobalt shortage and related ethical issues years ago. Over the past six or so years, Tesla reduced the use of cobalt in its nickel-cobalt-aluminum battery formulation by about 60 percent. In June 2018, Tesla’s Elon Musk said that less than three percent of the Model 3’s batteries is made up of cobalt. He said the company’s next-generation batteries will use no cobalt, but the timeline was vague...Henrik Fisker, the famed EV designer, said, “Electric vehicle automakers and battery manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure any materials we use in our batteries are sourced in an ethical way...Zero cobalt is hard, low is possible, but zero is very tricky at this point,” Venkat Viswanathan, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, told the Financial Times. A previous report from Amnesty International called out BYD, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Nissan, and Volkswagen for using battery suppliers, such as LG Chem, which source cobalt from the DRC. Tesla was spared by Amnesty International because Panasonic, its main battery supplier, sources cobalt from the Philippines rather than the DRC...

We EV drivers take the high road when it comes to climate, air pollution, and oil wars. And several major automakers boast about using vegan materials for EV interiors while dodging concerns about the EV-battery supply chain. It’s time for us to pay attention – and put as much energy into studying the fraught supply chain for batteries as we do debating EV charging time and one-pedal driving...We can demand to know what an automaker is doing to reduce the use of cobalt – and make sure that battery materials are sourced without child labor – before making our next purchase.

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