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25 Mar 2019

Bradley Berman, INSIDEEVs

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

"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.