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The Human Rights Issues That Could Taint Electric Cars

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With most automakers in the industry prepping an onslaught of electric vehicles in the coming years, there’s increasing attention being paid to where they’ll obtain necessary minerals for production. Last week, a group of 10 automakers took a step forward in the right direction, by saying they would “identify and address ethical, environmental, human and labour rights issues in the sourcing of raw materials.”


Global demand for minerals like cobalt—an essential element in electric car batteries—continues to swell, and we might not even have enough to meet the needs of automakers. But the question of where we get those metals is an even more challenging. For instance the increasingly-unstable Democratic Republic of Congo is the world’s biggest source of cobalt, where child labor is reportedly used in cobalt mines.

The allegation alone taints an ever-relevant supply for the auto industry. But a new partnership launched among the 10 automakers—including Ford, BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen—says it wants to “identity and address” human and labor rights issues in the sourcing of raw materials.


The partnership is called “Drive Sustainability.” It is being coordinated through CSR Europe, a business network. Drive Sustainability’s initiative—the Raw Materials Observatory—will “assess the risks posed by the top raw materials” like mica, cobalt rubber, and leather, in the automotive sector, according to Stefan Crets, the executive director of CSR Europe.

“This will allow Drive Sustainability to identify the most impactful activities to pursue in order to address the human, ethical and environmental issues within the supply chain,” Crets said in a statement.

And when it comes to mica, in particular, CRS says it’s working with a separate effort called Responsible Mica Initiative to create a wholly ethical supply chain over the next five years.

“For Drive Sustainability this is an occasion to contribute to cross-sector actions to tackle child labour issues and unacceptable working conditions in the raw materials supply chain” Crets said in the statement.


All told, it’s a notable sign that automakers recognize the challenging balancing act that’s ahead in trying to ramp up production of electric cars while also being cognizant of the fact that raw material itself is confined from a small, very conflicted market. Now they just have to stick to their word.