Fresh from a lengthy investigative article by the Washington Post and increased international attention to cobalt, Amnesty International announced it is calling on electric car manufacturers to be more transparent about this key ingredient in their vehicles and its possible connections to modern-day slavery and child labor.
Amnesty International, which has been highlighting the issues of children working in central African mines, issued its call in advance of the Paris Motor Show. The Paris show is gaining international attention because manufacturers are showcasing their latest electric car models.
As highlighted before the Washington Post article was published, Amnesty and other NGOs were pushing to add cobalt to the list of so-called “conflict minerals” under government watch and regulation for ties to human rights abuses and deadly wars in central Africa. Cobalt is highly valued as a key component in lithium batteries, which are used extensively in electric vehicles. Current estimates show that 50 percent or more of the world’s cobalt production derives from mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which is the region of prime focus for conflict minerals regulation and attention.
The Washington Post article, as well as subsequent articles, highlighted cobalt’s use in other battery-dependent products such as mobile phones and laptop computers. Now, electric vehicles are in focus for human rights organizations and other NGOs.
In its press release, Mark Dummett, business and human rights researcher at Amnesty International, said: “Amnesty International’s research shows that there is a significant risk of cobalt mined by children ending up in the batteries of electric cars. These vehicles are presented as the ethical choice for environmentally and socially conscious drivers, so the companies that manufacture them must come clean and prove they have acted diligently in getting their supplies.”
Many companies that rely on lithium-ion batteries for their products appear to be pursuing more assertive efforts to investigate their supply chains in the hopes of greater transparency and disclosure with regard to cobalt. Those corporations that have comprehensive techniques and programs to trace and report on conflict minerals will likely have the advantage to add cobalt to their investigations and disclosure reports.
One key to cobalt tracing will likely involve increased detection capabilities at smelters and refiners of raw ore. Source Intelligence is a member of the Conflict-Free Smelter Initiative, which is providing some of the most advanced smelter identification initiatives for companies. Prior to becoming part of this organization, Source Intelligence built one of the world’s largest databases of smelters and smelter aliases. Aliases are the alternative name for smelters and often can create confusion for suppliers and companies when preparing and filing disclosure reports.
Smelters are a key step in conflict minerals due diligence since they process and refine these raw ores — and send processed materials to manufacturers in Asia and around the globe. Determining whether a product contains a conflict mineral after the smelter stage is extremely difficult. The alias database enables suppliers and their customers to detect whether a raw material or semi-finished product is connected to a conflict mineral.
Chris Kraus serves as Source Intelligence’s vice president of strategic alliances. Prior to joining Source Intelligence, Chris was responsible for establishing and expanding an EH&S compliance company where he served as the technical services director and was responsible for addressing chemical spills, waste disposal, and training programs for its largest customers. He has directed teams for EH&S Solutions that facilitated hazardous materials compliance management and compliance programs. He holds certificates in Hazardous Materials Management, Business Management, and is a California Registered Environmental Assessor, BEAC Certified Environmental Auditor, and BEAC Certified Health & Safety Auditor.