There’s A Human Rights Abuse Problem In The EV Industry

There’s A Human Rights Abuse Problem In The EV Industry

While electric vehicles may be (theoretically) better for the environment than internal combustion-powered cars, the mining of minerals used to make their batteries is overrun with allegations of human abuse. A nonprofit called the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre recently posted a report that shows widespread human rights violations, and automakers just keep on sourcing materials from some of the worst offenders.

BHRRC has reportedly documented 631 human rights abuse allegations since 2010 for seven key minerals used in electric vehicles, their rechargeable batteries and renewable energy technologies, according to the Verge. Quite a few of these allegations were made against a small number of companies, and the outlet was able to like them to three of the world’s biggest EV makers: Tesla, Volkswagen Group and BYD. Yikes.

Here’s more on what’s going on, from the Verge:

“Things are not improving,” said Caroline Avan, head of natural resources and just transition at BHRRC. The need for more renewable energy and clean transportation is evident, but those technologies shouldn’t come at the expense of people who live and work in places where companies source their raw materials, she said.

“The fight against climate change is a human rights imperative at this point in time, but it should not be seen as a license to just disregard human rights in mining operations,” Avan said.

An electric vehicle requires about six times as many minerals as a typical gas-guzzling car. Demand for critical minerals used in EVs and battery storage for renewable energy could grow tenfold by 2040, under a conservative estimate by the International Energy Agency. Scrambling to secure all those minerals without taking the time to make sure they’re mined humanely is where problems arise.

BHRRC’s latest report includes potential abuses linked to the mining of seven minerals: bauxite, cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel, and zinc. It’s been tracking those allegations since 2019 using publicly available records, including court documents and regulatory resources, as well as reports from other nongovernmental organizations and media outlets.

It found 91 more allegations in the past year alone, including a “marked increase in labour rights violations and worker deaths” that made up roughly 40 percent of the new allegations in 2023. Across its entire data set going back to 2010, labor violations including 53 work-related deaths make up a quarter of all allegations. For 2023, alleged attacks against human rights defenders, water pollution, and threats to water access are also glaring issues.

While a large number of companies are dubious when it comes to human rights issues, the Verge says that since 2010, over half of the allegations were made against just 10 of them. State-owned China Minmetals is at the top of the list, followed by Swiss multinational mining megacorporation Glencore, which has actually ranked the highest over the past couple of years.

That just shows it’s not about where you start – it’s where you finish.

Here’s what manufacturers use these companies for, according to the Verge:

To drive its EV ambitions, Volkswagen entered into an agreement with Glencore and battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL) back in 2017, Reuters reported. Under the agreement, CATL would buy 20,000 metric tons of cobalt products from Glencore for Volkswagen’s EV batteries.

In 2023, VW’s battery division PowerCo initially agreed to back a SPAC deal alongside Glencore and Stellantis to buy nickel and copper mines in Brazil — although the deal reportedly fell through later that year over price squabbles. Volkswagen has also identified gold sourced by Glencore in its supply chain, according to its 2023 Responsible Raw Materials Report. The company declined to comment on BHRRC’s findings but has said that it is working to comply with Germany’s new Supply Chain Due Diligence Act.

Tesla buys nickel from a Glencore mine in Australia and cobalt from two Glencore mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo according to the company’s 2021 and 2022 impact reports. In 2022, workers at one of those cobalt mines spoke to The Verge about unsafe working conditions without adequate water or breaks and with little food or pay. Cobalt is often called “the blood diamond of batteries” because of the dangers workers face mining it.


Tesla’s 2022 impact report explains that the company conducts audits of its suppliers to improve working conditions at each site and make sure “corrective actions” are taken to address any problems. It touts “working with suppliers where issues are found rather than walking away.”

This is all, well, very not good.

Alright, that’s enough from me. Head on over to The Verge for more information on what BYD is doing with these companies and what other industries are taking advantage of sketchy human rights.

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