Electro-mobility & resource governance: NGOs urge carmakers to take responsibility for social & environmental costs of electric vehicles

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Article
29 September 2017

The dark side of electric cars: Exploitative labour practices

Author: Mark Dummett, Time (US)

...[S]ome electric cars are not, currently, as ethically “clean” as manufacturers would have us believe. [A key component of the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries on which electric cars run is cobalt.] Amnesty International’s research has shown that cobalt mined by children and adults in extremely hazardous conditions could be entering the supply chains of some of the world’s largest carmakers... More than half of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)... 

So, what should these companies be doing?... According to [OECD] guidelines, electric car manufacturers and battery makers should be able to say who their [cobalt] smelters or refiners [from high-risk areas like the DRC] are, and should make public their own assessment of whether the smelter’s due diligence practices are adequate in identifying and addressing human rights risks and abuses. We have contacted many of the largest companies and, not a single car manufacturer told us they had actually done this... The electric car industry must understand that transparency of human rights risks abuses arising in their supply chains is the way forward...

We need to phase out fossil fuels, and electric cars are an integral part of a greener future. But as electric car manufacturers move to the forefront of the market, they need to drastically improve their practices and take steps to ensure that their role in the energy revolution is truly clean and fair... [refers to Apple, HP, Huawei, Huayou Cobalt, Sony, Samsung SDI]

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Article
24 August 2017

Nickel mining: the hidden environmental cost of electric cars; incl. company comments

Author: Max Opray, The Guardian (UK)

As countries the world over legislate to phase out petrol and diesel cars, attention is turning to the environmental impact of mining the materials needed for electric vehicle batteries. This additional scrutiny has largely focused on ethical concerns with cobalt and lithium supply chains, despite Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s observation last year that the lithium ion batteries his vehicles use are mostly made of nickel and graphite, with lithium itself merely “the salt on the salad”. But the extraction of nickel – predominately mined in Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Russia and the Philippines – comes at an environmental and health cost. Plumes of sulphur dioxide choking the skies, churned earth blanketed in cancerous dust, rivers running blood-red – environmental campaigners have painted a grim picture of the nickel mines and smelters feeding the electric vehicle industry. [also refers to BHP Billiton, Renault, Norilsk Nickel]

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Article
10 August 2017

Experts warn rise of electric cars could lead to a battery waste problem; batteries also risk giving off toxic gases

Author: Joey Gardiner, The Guardian

The drive to replace polluting petrol and diesel cars with a new breed of electric vehicles has gathered momentum in recent weeks. But there is an unanswered environmental question at the heart of the electric car movement: what on earth to do with their half-tonne lithium-ion batteries when they wear out? [...] In the EU as few as 5% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled... Not only do the batteries carry a risk of giving off toxic gases if damaged, but core ingredients such as lithium and cobalt are finite and extraction can lead to water pollution and depletion among other environmental consequences. There are, however, grounds for optimism... “Car producers will be accountable for the collection and recycling of spent lithium-ion batteries,” he [chief executive of Umicore] says. “Given their sheer size, batteries cannot be stored at home and landfilling is not an option.”

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Article
29 July 2017

Electric carmakers need to take more responsibility for mining of raw materials, says researcher at Amnesty Intl.

Author: Karl West, The Guardian

Britain last week joined France in pledging to ban sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040... [T]he road to a promised land of zero-emission vehicles is littered with speed bumps... Battery makers are struggling to secure supplies of key ingredients in these large power packs... Amnesty International has shone a light on the dark side of this dream. The human rights group says children as young as seven continue to work in perilous conditions in mines in the DRC. In 2014, according to Unicef, about 40,000 children were working in mines across southern DRC... A report by Amnesty and Afrewatch (African Resources Watch) published in January said corporations such as Apple, Samsung, Sony, Microsoft, Daimler and Volkswagen were failing to do basic checks to ensure that they did not use cobalt mined by child labourers in their products... It is high time the big brands took some responsibility for the mining of the raw materials that make their lucrative products. [also refers to BMW, Volvo, First Cobalt, Glencore, LG Chem, EnZinc, Teck Resources]

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre previously invited companies to respond to the report by Amnesty & Afrewatch. You can find their responses here.

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Article
26 July 2017

DRC: Child labourers must not pay the price for UK's shift to electric vehicles, says Amnesty Intl.

Author: Amnesty International

Responding to the UK government’s commitment to ban all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040, Mark Dummett, Business and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International, said: “This is good news for the environment and for air quality, but [...] our research shows that there is a significant risk of cobalt mined by children and adults in appalling conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo ending up in the batteries of electric cars. Workers in the DRC, earning as little as one dollar a day and at risk of fatal accidents and illness, must not pay the price for the UK’s shift to electric cars... [T]here is a worrying lack of transparency across the car manufacturing industry, with many leading names failing to disclose information about their cobalt supply chains... [W]e are calling on them to make public the steps they are taking to ensure that their supply chains are not tainted by human rights abuses...

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Article
26 July 2017

Environmental impact & security of sources of battery materials often overlooked, experts say

Author: Ben McLellan, The Conversation

People are excited about batteries, from electric cars to Tesla’s 129 megawatt-hour energy storage project in South Australia. But one important issue is often overlooked: the raw materials needed to build this technology – where they come from and their environmental cost... We need to think carefully about the security of the sources of lithium-ion battery materials, as well as the environmental impact of their extraction... [One] main environmental concern [...] is that the extraction can impact water supply in desert areas. It also uses some chemicals for purification... Turning minerals into batteries takes a supply chain, and each stage – mining, processing, refining, manufacturing – could present a bottleneck. Manufacturers such as electric vehicle makers should be concerned that the supply of one of the key mineral components, or the processing and refining infrastructure, could become too centralised in a single country...

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