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Media Post: EVs and Raw Material Ethical Issues 

The days of uncertainty involving the usefulness of electric vehicles for transportation and freight are definitely over. They are everywhere now and for good reason. Let’s start with the fact that electric vehicles are cheap in the long run and their operation is emission-free. Attributes like this are just some of the reasons that the demand for electric vehicles (EVs, Hybrids, etc.) is ramping up dramatically. Why not, with electric vehicles, there’s not a lot of negatives.

Raw materials

However, constructing electric vehicles brings another dimension to the arguement. Electric cars use many rare materials, especially in their battery packs. Metals such Cobalt, lithium, and nickel are just a few. According to Warsaw Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Warsaw, IN, these metals are needed to make the lithium-ion batteries in the Pacifica Hybrid, among other cars.  The problem is that with demand increasing rapidly, some side effects have occurred in the battery supply chain. For example, many of these raw materials come from third world countries where labor is cheap and children are used as workers. Even though the demand for these materials is through the roof, the money does trickle down. Let’s look at the supply chain of Cobalt.

Cobalt supply

Cobalt is a 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 much of the global supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to UNICEF, some 40,000 children are involved in cobalt mining in Democratic Republic of Congo 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.

Making a difference

Since the demand for cobalt and other scarce metals is driven not only electric car manufacturers but many other electronics companies (specifically cell phone manufacturers), these companies should be held accountable for enforcing ethically-sourcing policies.  This is a top down approach, and it has been shown to 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 Samsung, and Sony combined forces and created the Responsible Cobalt Initiative (RPI). Members of the RPI have pledged to follow guidelines for the cobalt supply chain.

The rest of the raw materials

In this article, we focused on just cobalt, but most of the other raw materials, in particular, the rare ones, are being overseen in a similar fashion. Thankfully, the days of child labor and other unethical practices are being addressed and being taken care of.

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