The automotive industry’s shift to electric vehicles looks unstoppable, as all major manufacturers are already investing huge sums into electrification technologies.
However, while electric vehicles have zero emissions, the work that goes into building their most critical component, namely the battery pack, is anything but clean. Amnesty International sounds a warning over the environmental and human risks posed by the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries.
At the Nordic Electric Vehicle (EV) Summit in Oslo, the NGO is challenging EV industry leaders to build the world’s first completely ethical battery within five years.
“Electric vehicles are key to shifting the motor industry away from fossil fuels, but they are currently not as ethical as some retailers would like us to believe,” the organization says in a statement.
Cobalt and lithium mines linked to human rights violations
Amnesty International claims lithium-ion batteries “are linked to human rights abuses including child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and environmental risks which could undermine their green potential.”
The NGO has documented serious human rights violations linked to the extraction of the minerals used in lithium-ion batteries, especially in the DRC, the country that owns more than half of the world’s cobalt reserves. A 2016 investigation found children and adults in southern DRC working in hand-dug cobalt mines, facing serious health risks.
Additionally, Amnesty International has started looking into violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples living near lithium mines in Argentina. Mining projects are being developed on indigenous communities’ lands without their consent and without properly informing them about the potential impact on their water sources.
“With demand for batteries soaring, now is the time for a drastic overhaul of our energy sources that prioritizes protection of human rights and the environment,” said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
Most batteries are built in countries where electricity is generated by polluting sources
Another problem identified by the NGO has to do with the lithium-ion batteries’ manufacturing process. Most of the global production is now concentrated in China, South Korea and Japan, where electricity is mostly generated by coal and other polluting sources. Amnesty International warns that more needs to be done to reduce the carbon footprint during the manufacturing phase.
At the same time, the rising demand for minerals like cobalt, manganese and lithium has led to a surge in interest in deep-sea mining, which has serious and irreversible impacts on biodiversity.
Finally, the problem of used batteries is deemed equally serious. The NGO is calling on companies “to ensure that batteries are disposed of responsibly.” Evidence suggests that battery waste from electronics has been irresponsibly disposed of, thus contaminating soil, water, and air. Needless to say, that waste contains various hazardous materials.