Electric Vehicles and Raw Material Ethical Issues
In case there is any doubt, the benefits of using electric vehicles for transportation and freight are becoming quite apparent. Let's start with the fact that electric vehicles are cheaper to use (in the long run) and their operation is emission-free. Plus, riding in an electric vehicle is eerily quiet, almost peaceful. Attributes like this are some of the reasons that the demand for these vehicles is ramping up dramatically. With electric vehicles, there's not a lot of negatives.
However, constructing these vehicles does have a few challenges. Electric cars use many rare materials, especially in their battery packs. According to our consultant at Leckner Ford of Woodstock, VA Metals such lithium, cobalt, nickel and platinum are found in the lithium-ion batteries in the Ford Hybrids. And with demand increasing rapidly, some "unintended consequences" have occurred in the battery supply chain. Consider the issue of human costs. Many of these raw materials come from third world countries where labor is cheap and children are used as workers. Let's look at the supply chain of just one of the metals: Cobalt.
The Cobalt story
Cobalt is a bluish-gray metal found in the Earth's crust and is one of the critical raw materials to make lithium-ion batteries. Cobalt is mined all over the world, but 50 to 60% of the global supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC.) According to UNICEF, some 40,000 children are involved in cobalt mining in DRC where they make far less than the adults do performing the same tasks. And, the situation will only grow larger because the demand for cobalt has tripled in the past five years and is projected to double again in just a year.
What can be done
Since the demand for cobalt and other scarce metals is driven electric car manufacturers (and other companies, specifically cell phone manufacturers), these firms should be held accountable for enforcing policies that require that only ethically-sourced materials can be used. This is a top down approach, and it can be very effective.
Progress is being made
Thankfully, some companies are off to a good start. Let's look at cobalt supply again. A few years ago, tech giants like HP, Samsung, and Sony combined forces and created the Responsible Cobalt Initiative. Members of the initiative have pledged to follow guidelines for the supply chain, guidelines that involve tracking cobalt extraction and transportation.
And the rest
In this article, we focused on just cobalt, but most of the other raw materials are being overseen in a similar fashion. Thankfully, the days of child labor and other unethical practices are being addressed and taken care of.
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