Tracking human rights violations & environmental impacts in lithium batteries supply chains in China, DRC & So. America

This series of stories in the Washington Post found that the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries - the power source for smartphones, laptops and electric cars - is linked to human rights abuses and environmental pollution in cobalt mines in Congo, indigenous communities near lithium deposits in South America, and graphite factories in China.  The stories includes responses by several technology, electronics and car companies which use lithium in their batteries, such as Apple, Samsung, LG Chem, Tesla, General Motors, Aperex Technology, Ford, BMW, Amazon and L&F Material. 

(photo credit: Michael Robinson Chavez)

 

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Article
9 January 2017

China: Graphite production for lithium-ion batteries causes severe environmental pollution; complaints by villagers are suppressed

Author: Peter Whoriskey, Washington Post

“In your phone, in their air - A trace of graphite is in consumer tech. In these Chinese villages, it’s everywhere.”, 2 October 2016

…[V]irtually all…[lithium] batteries use graphite, and its cheap production in China, often under lax environmental controls, produces old-fashioned industrial pollution. At five towns in two provinces…Washington Post journalists heard the same story from villagers living near graphite companies: sparkling night air, damaged crops, homes and belongings covered in soot, polluted drinking water — and government officials inclined to look the other way to benefit a major employer. After leaving these Chinese mines and refiners, much of the graphite is sold to Samsung SDI, LG Chem and Panasonic — the three largest manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries. Those companies supply batteries to major consumer companies such as Samsung, LG, General Motors and Toyota…Some provinces in China…issued fines to several graphite companies. But the pollution continues. Villagers said the cleanup efforts failed…because local authorities are closely allied with company officials and unwilling to acknowledge the gravity of the environmental trouble. Complaints about the pollution are often met with intimidation…

[Also refers to: Amazon.com, Amperex Technology Ltd. (ATL), Apple, Aoyu Graphite Group, BTR, Haida Graphite, Hensen Graphite, Hitachi Chemical, Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation, Nippon Carbon, Shanshan, Tesla]

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Article
9 January 2017

Insufficient monitoring of supply chains by large battery manufacturers exposed

Author: Peter Whoriskey, Washington Post

„Tesla aims to sustain purity of car batteries, but can any company be sure?”, 30 December 2016

…[T]he electric-vehicles revolution…depends on an immense escalation in the world’s capacity to manufacture lithium-ion batteries, and the race for the raw materials to build those batteries is creating strains for people and the environment far from Silicon Valley, a Washington Post investigation has found…[T]he manufacture of lithium-ion batteries…is linked to child labor in cobalt mines in Congo, severe air and water pollution around graphite plants in China and complaints of mistreatment of indigenous communities near lithium deposits in South ­America. The mining companies tied to these problems supply some of the largest manufacturers of ­lithium-ion batteries…And some of those battery makers directly supply Tesla and other big tech giants. In response to these concerns, Tesla denied that the sources of its battery materials are tainted by abuses [but] declined to identify what those sources are…The Post investigation showed that large consumer companies may not know where the raw materials come from…

[Also refers to: Apple, BTR, Coremax, LG Chem, Panasonic, Sales de Jujuy, Samsung, Sumitomo Group, Umicore, Zhejiang Huayou]

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Article
9 January 2017

Negative effects of lithium mining on indigenous communities in Chile & Argentina exposed by Washington Post investigation; includes company statements

Author: Todd C. Frankel & Peter Whoriskey, Washington Post

“Tossed aside in the ‘white gold’ rush: Indigenous people are left poor as tech world takes lithium from under their feet”, 19 December 2016

…[T]he indigenous Atacamas people face a constant struggle…Mining companies have for years been extracting billions of dollars of lithium from the Atacama region in Chile, and now [also]…Argentina…In visits to all six of the indigenous communities…The Post found a striking contrast — faraway companies profiting from mineral riches while the communities that own the land struggle to pay for sewage systems, drinking water and heat for schools…Many…are worried that the lithium plants, which use vast amounts of water, will deepen existing shortages in the region…In response to the complaints, the mining companies…told The Post that they follow environmental regulations and that the lithium boom has yielded benefits for residents. They point to the creation of hundreds of jobs and investments of hundreds of millions of dollars in one of Argentina’s poorest regions…The lithium boom…has divided communities. It has spurred demonstrations and lawsuits…One problem is that the province lacks a formal process for negotiations between indigenous communities and mining companies…

[Refers to Albemarle, Amazon, Apple, ATL, FMC, Foote Mineral, General Motors, LG Chem, LG Electronics, Lithium Americas, Millennial Lithium, Minera Exar, Orocobre, Panasonic, Pulead, Sales de Jujuy, Samsung, Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile (SQM), Tesla, Toyota, Toyota Tsusho]

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Article
30 September 2016

The cobalt pipeline: Tracing the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to consumers’ phones and laptops

Author: Todd C. Frankel, Michael Robinson Chavez & Jorge Ribas, Washington Post

The [Washington] Post traced this cobalt pipeline and, for the first time, showed how cobalt mined in these harsh conditions ends up in popular consumer products.  It moves from small-scale Congolese mines to a single Chinese company — Congo DongFang International Mining, part of one of the world’s biggest cobalt producers, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt — that for years has supplied some of the world’s largest battery makers.  They, in turn, have produced the batteries found inside products such as Apple’s iPhones — a finding that calls into question corporate assertions that they are capable of monitoring their supply chains for human rights abuses or child labor...(Includes film and references to and answers from Apple, Samsung, Huayou Colbalt, LG Chem, Tesla, General Motors, Aperex Technology, Ford, BMW, Amazon and L&F Material)

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Article
30 September 2016

Companies respond to questions about their cobalt supply chains

Author: Todd C. Frankel, Washington Post

Follows article The cobalt pipeline Tracing the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to consumers’ phones and laptops. Includes responses/non-responses to the Washington Post's investigation by Congo DongFang Mining/Hyuayou Cobalt and Apple

Huayou Cobalt, parent company of Congo DongFang Mining, admits to having “insufficient awareness of supply chain management.”... it did not know that buying artisanal cobalt “would increase directly or indirectly child labor and human rights” risks. It has hired an outside company to conduct supply-chain due diligence, with a report on this topic expected later this year. It is also working with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters to develop guidelines for responsible mineral supply chains. The company said that to just avoid artisanal cobalt “is actually an irresponsible business act, which would very possibly aggravate the local poverty in cobalt mining regions and worsen the livelihood of local legal artisanal miners.”

Apple said it is committed to working with Huayou to clean up the supply chain and to addressing underlying issues such as extreme poverty...plans to increase scrutiny of how its cobalt is obtained but does not want to find remedies aimed at just “making the supply chain look pretty.” Starting in 2017, Apple will internally treat cobalt as a conflict mineral, requiring all cobalt refiners to agree to outside supply-chain audits and conduct risk assessments...also will soon, for the first time, include cobalt in an annual update of due-diligence efforts for its conflict-minerals supply chain. This goes beyond what current OECD guidelines call for. Apple also supports adding cobalt to the U.S. conflict-minerals law, which currently requires American firms to try to verify the source of tin, tungsten, titanium and gold used in their products.

Other responses by LG Chem, Ford, General Motors, Samsung SDI, Samsung, BMW, Amazon.com., Pulead, Amperex Technology (ATL), L&F Material, Hunan Shanshan.

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