Would You Like Some Child Labor with That Electric Car?

Governor Walz has made expanding electric vehicle (EV) usage in Minnesota a high priority for his administration. In February, the Department of Transportation announced that transit officials want 20 percent of all cars, SUV’s, and light-duty trucks to be electric by 2030, an increase of nearly 194,000 new electric vehicles on the road.

We all know that EV’s have serious shortcomings in the cold, losing up to 40 percent of their power output when it is 20 degrees above zero, but what will Walz’s push for EVs do to the environment?

It’s a question that is worth examining, because despite the clean image of electric cars, they have a dirty little secret: many of the minerals, such as cobalt, needed to build the batteries for these cars are mined in areas of the world that are rife with child labor, human rights abuses, and zero environmental protections.

In fact, Amnesty International called out electric car manufacturers last week for producing batteries through unethical and fossil-fuel intensive methods.

This leaves Governor Walz with an important decision. Minnesota has the majority of the cobalt reserves in the United States, and if we don’t get our cobalt from here, we will get it from places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 40,000 children work in cobalt mines.

The residents of the Iron Range want to mine these metals responsibly in Minnesota, but Governor Walz’s appointment of Sarah Strommen, who worked as Policy Director for Friends of the Boundary Waters, a group that has opposed both the PolyMet mine and the Twin Metals mine, in the past does not instill confidence that he will in fact “follow the science” and allow responsible mining to occur in Minnesota.

The following article originally appeared in EuroNews

The human rights NGO Amnesty International argued that years of unregulated industry practices for the extraction of the minerals used in lithium-ion batteries have led to “detrimental human rights and environmental impacts.”

“Finding effective solutions to the climate crisis is an absolute imperative, and electric cars have an important role to play in this,” Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said in a statement.

“But without radical changes, the batteries which power green vehicles will continue to be tainted by human rights abuses,” he added.

Human rights violations

The NGO said it had documented serious human rights violation linked to the extraction of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo including child labour and exposure to serious health risks.

It also said that indigenous communities near lithium mines in Argentina are not properly consulted about mining projects on their lands and given insufficient information about the potential impacts it may have on their water sources as mining lithium is water-intensive.

Environmental impacts

Rising demand for minerals needed to produce the batteries has led to a surge in interest in deep-sea mining.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 29 contracts for the exploration of deep-sea mineral deposits had been granted by the International Seabed Authority by May 2018. The IUCN estimates that commercial mining could start in 2020 in Papua New Guinea’s national waters and by 2025 in international waters.

A study by scientists from the University of Exeter concluded last year that deep-sea mining could lead to the release of toxic element and to rapid loss of marine species.

Furthermore, the production of the batteries is currently concentrated in Asian countries including China, South Korea and Japan, where “electricity generation remains dependent on coal and other polluting sources of power,” Amnesty noted.

The NGO does however laud the some companies including Apple, BMW, Daimler and Renault for publishing data about their supply chains. It is urging others to do the same and called on the electric vehicle industry to come up with an ethical and clean battery within five years.