Electric Vehicles: Loved by Environmentalists, but What About the Child Labor?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

A day before the Paris Auto show opens to the public, Amnesty International has accused manufacturers of clean, green electric cars of having dirty hands.

The human rights organization threw a wet blanket over the large crop of EVs exhibited in Paris, issuing a release targeting certain automakers for indirectly employing child labor in the construction of its vehicles.

Using data drawn from its own report on the issue, Amnensty International claims that many lithium-ion battery pack suppliers use children as young as seven to mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Cobalt is a key component of the batteries, and 20 percent of it is mined by hand, the organization claims. Fatal accidents and lung disease are common in the crude mines, where laborers are paid as little as one dollar a day. Between September 2014 and December 2015, 80 miners died in underground mines in southern DRC, the organization claims.

Companies drawing cobalt from the DRC include Korean manufacturer LG Chem, which supplies batteries for the Chevrolet Volt, Renault Twizy and ZOE, and upgrades to the Tesla Roadster. Another Korean supplier, Samsung SDI, uses DRC-sourced cobalt in batteries bound for the BMW i3 and i8, as well as the Fiat 500e.

According to the organization, “investor documents to show how cobalt mined in the DRC is bought by a Chinese company, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt (Huayou Cobalt), which supplies battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea. In turn, these component manufacturers sell to battery makers including LG Chem and Samsung SDI, that supply many of the world’s largest car companies.”

In its January report, Amnesty International claimed that other manufacturers, including Volkswagen, Daimler and Chinese brand BYD, might source batteries containing DRC cobalt.

Amnesty International recently challenged the car companies, demanding to know what they planned to do about the troubling connection to child labor. The organization gave BMW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles good marks for their response, but others fell short.

“General Motors (GM) and Tesla did not reply to a request from Amnesty International to provide evidence of how they identify and address human rights abuses in their cobalt supply chains, particularly in relation to child labour,” the organization claims. “Renault said it would respond to Amnesty ‘at the earliest possible time,’ but provided no other information.”

Despite their detailed responses, BMW and Fiat-Chrysler “failed to provide sufficient proof that they were meeting international standards applicable to mineral supply chains,” the organization added.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines states that companies using cobalt mined in high-risk areas should identify their smelters or refiners and disclose any human rights infractions.

[Image: BMW]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • DearS DearS on Oct 01, 2016

    Thanks for the story. I will make a real effort to lower my negative involvement with companies that support such horrible practices. I will continue to educate myself on how I can make a difference or at least lower my impact. I plan to keep my phone for another year, it does a good job and the battery is running well. I will also increase my charity donations to give directly so people have more options in 3rd world countries.

    • Old Man Pants Old Man Pants on Oct 01, 2016

      I admire you no end. I have yet to do anything with my coerced donations but ensure that 3rd world countries have more people.

  • Tedward Tedward on Oct 01, 2016

    Actually child labor and slave labor are two things that inspire blood curdling rage in me. I would never in a million years adopt a blase attitude about either or willingly contribute to the practice. At the same time, I think it's bizarre to put responsibility for this on manufacturer's vending products that are multiple steps removed from the practice. Now, if someone said gm or bmw engaged directly, or sent advisers to encourage, the process that would be a different story. That's not what I'm reading from summaries of AI's own report. AI has a laudable goal here. But their tactics suck, and more than border on unethical themselves. Samsung et al clearly are not receptive to pressure on this issue, governments themselves have also proven resistant (probably because they've assessed the fix at extremely high, possibly war grade ethical and monetary costs) so AI is trying to put the screws on manufacturers so tied into national economies and dependant on public goodwill that this presure will force state department or military level intervention. They've got such a good goal that they've forgotten how to be the good guys. That sure as hell sounds familiar.

    • See 4 previous
    • Shaker Shaker on Oct 03, 2016

      @Old Man Pants I'll prefer 8-ball, at least until my back gives out. :-(

  • El scotto Hyundai/Kia's true masters are finally revealed.
  • El scotto Stirring up some more. The GSA is required to buy vehicles from the Big 3. This shows the Federal Government tacitly supports the UAW. Yeah I've seen some Hyundai or Kia hybrids. I didn't pay much attention the EV/American parts percentage tax credits. It looks like a lot of skullduggery. The UAW coming to SEC-land may be the beginning of the end of SEC-land being the US's internal third world country.The US is bringing more manufacturing back from China. Our demographics are shrinking. Unskilled labor will cost more, a union job might not pay enough.
  • El scotto I look forward to watching MTG and Tommy Tuberville when the UAW comes to their states.
  • El scotto Vehicle company white collar (non-union) engineers design the parts and assembly procedures. The UAW members are instructed on how to install the parts. Engineers are also in charge of quality control. The executives are ulimately responible for the quality of their products.
  • Chris P Bacon I don't care either way, the employees have the right to organize, and I'm never going to buy a VW. But.... It would be interesting if the media (HINT HINT) would be able to provide a detailed look at what (if anything) the VW workers gain by unionizing. There will be dues to pay. How much? I bet the current policies, pay and benefits mirror other auto companies. When all is said and done an the first contract signed, my money is on the UAW to be he only ones who really come out ahead. That leads into my next comment. Once a union is voted onto the property, it is almost impossible to get rid of them. Even if the membership feels the union doesn't have their best interests in mind, the hurdles to get rid of them are too high. There were a lot of promises made by the UAW, even if they don't deliver, they'll be in Chattanooga even if the membership decides they made a mistake.