Is This New Partnership Enough to Make Electric Vehicles Ethical?

Electric vehicle sales are up 47% in the USA this year and, while that’s great for the environment, there is a problem. Some of these minerals, such as cobalt, come from conflict regions and aren’t ethically sourced‘Drive Sustainably’ is a new partnership between leading automakers, aiming to combat this problem.

Conflict Materials

Rechargeable batteries account for 40% of the global demand for cobalt. By 2021 it’s expected that EV batteries alone will account for 16.9% of the demand for cobalt. The problem is, where the cobalt comes from and how it’s mined.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) produces 65% of the cobalt used each year. An alarming amount of the mines in the DRC have little to no safety regulations and employ child miners. UNICEF reported that, in 2014, approximately 40,000 miners in DRC were children.

Often, the children in these mines work 12- hour days to earn just $1-2.

What Manufacturers are Doing

Since 2014, companies have been required to submit conflict mineral reports, detailing how they source their minerals. More than two-thirds of the companies that submitted reports in 2014 couldn’t identify where they sourced their minerals – this included many major automakers.

Drive Sustainably

Recently, 10 leading automakers have pledged to uphold ethical and social standards when sourcing minerals for their electric vehicles. The partnership is called ‘Drive Sustainably’ and includes VW, Toyota Motor Europe, Ford, Daimler, BMW, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo Cars, and truckmakers Scania and Volvo.

According to Stefan Crets, of the CSR Europe business network, the alliance:

Will assess the risks posed by the top raw materials (such as mica, cobalt, rubber and leather) in the automotive sector… This will allow Drive Sustainability to identify the most impactful activities to pursue.

Although the alliance is in its infancy, it seems to be a step in the right direction. But it’s yet to be seen if it will make an impact before the demand for these materials booms.

Too Much Too Soon

Countries around the world are gearing up to impose regulations that would promote the sales of electric vehicles. China, for example, will require 8% of manufacturer’s sales to be comprised of EVs in 2018 and 12% by 2020. Automakers who fail to meet these criteria will have tariffs imposed.

An extensive list of countries is planning to phase out the sale of ICE vehicles or ban them completely. These regulations will inflate global EV sales and, consequently, the need for cobalt.

The question is, before these regulations are imposed, does more need to be done to ensure these minerals are ethically sourced?

By Robert Bacon