Cobalt in your car battery: the ethics of mining minerals

“With many European governments subsidising electric vehicle purchases and more calls for a “green recovery” or to “build back better” after Covid-19,” there are alternatives. 

“Cobalt can be sourced responsibly, and it’s time to act.”

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There are some great battery technologies being developed:

New Vanadium battery technology – Vision Group for Sidmouth

New liquid air battery technology – Vision Group for Sidmouth

New lithium battery technology – Vision Group for Sidmouth

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With the West Country as a source of essential minerals:

West Country lithium – Vision Group for Sidmouth

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The only problem being that there are other sources of such minerals – where conditions are so bad that they have been called ‘blood minerals’:

Futures Forum: Conflict minerals in your gadgetry > the blood and sweat in phones and batteries

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The Daily Mail has been asking some awkward questions of late:

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Children paying the price for eco-car smuggery: As Boris Johnson aims for new cars to be electric by 2030, Congolese miners as young as 11 risk their lives for cobalt that green-tech relies on for £1.50 a day. Are our cleaner roads worth their suffering?

  • Award-winning photographer Sebastian Meyer reveals pitiful truth of eco cars 
  • He visits Democratic Republic of Congo, home to two-thirds of world’s Cobalt 
  • Meagre pay, dangerous conditions and long hours are all part of cruel narrative
  • This week Boris Johnson hailed a green plan with the electric car at its centre

As Boris Johnson aims for new cars to be electric by 2030, Congolese miners risk lives for cobalt | Daily Mail Online

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Of course, every industry involves extraction – and that can have terrible consequences, even in ‘the West’:

Australia approves vast coal mine near Great Barrier Reef| phys.org

Queensland teenagers lodge legal action against Adani coal mine to save Great Barrier Reef – ABC News

Great Barrier Reef suffers biggest bleaching event yet | mongabay.com

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However, such is the ‘ethical load’ on ‘green technologies’, that very high standards are expected…

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The spotlight has been on cobalt in the Congo for some time now:

Cobalt blues – In Congo the little guys are jailed for stealing minerals | Middle East & Africa | The Economist

Top tech firms sued over DR Congo cobalt mining deaths – BBC News

DRC: Alarming research shows long lasting harm from cobalt mine abuses | Amnesty International

Tesla secures cobalt sourcing deal with Glencore, despite human rights concerns linked to cobalt mining – Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

photo: File: Child labor, Artisan Mining in Kailo Congo.jpg – Wikimedia Commons

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Action is being taken, however:

Volkswagen engages in improving working conditions in artisanal cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo | Automotive World

Mercedes-Benz adopts mining standard initiative for ethical battery sourcing | News | Automotive Logistics

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And alternatives are being sought.

By the market-leader:

Tesla to make EV battery cathodes without cobalt – The Verge

What Tesla & Cobalt Mining In Canada Have In Common

And across the industry:

As EV vehicles hit a crossroads, cutting out cobalt has never been more urgent | thelondoneconomic.com

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To finish, a piece which brings the issues together:

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Cobalt can be sourced responsibly, and it’s time to act

Business and human rights professor Dorothée Baumann-Pauly calls for human rights to be at the centre of a “green recovery” from the coronavirus pandemic and argues the cobalt mining industry is ripe for change.

Electric vehicle sales are booming. With many European governments subsidising electric vehicle purchases and more calls for a “green recovery” or to “build back better” after Covid-19, this trend is likely to accelerate.

Yet, what is good for the planet currently comes at a high human cost…

A better way: 

There is a way to source cobalt so that our green recovery from the pandemic also builds a better supply chain, where artisanal miners are not hiding on the fringes in unsafe conditions…

Cobalt can be sourced responsibly, and it’s time to act – SWI swissinfo.ch

   
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