Human rights advocate Amnesty International has accused the electric vehicle (EV) industry of selling itself as environmentally friendly, while most of the batteries they produce use polluting fossil fuels and unethically sourced minerals.
In a report published on Thursday, the rights group says manufacturing batteries can be carbon intensive, while the extraction of minerals used in them has been linked to human rights violations such as child labour.
Amnesty has outlined a vision for battery production that can result in ethical and sustainably produced batteries within five years. That process involves extraction, ethical manufacturing, reuse and recovery of batteries, and a prohibition on deep-sea mining.
The group called on companies to publicly disclose information about how human rights abuses and environmental risks are being prevented, identified and addressed throughout the lithium-ion battery’s life cycle.
“The massive global corporations that dominate the electric vehicle industry have the resources and expertise to create energy solutions that are truly clean and fair,” Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said in a statement.
“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,” Naidoo said.
Automakers are investing billions of dollars to ramp up EV production. German giant Volkswagen, for one, is spending $50 billion to refocus the company on the making of EVs, autonomous vehicles and new mobility services.
The Wolfsburg-based manufacturer plans to raise annual production of EVs to 3 million by 2025, from 40,000 in 2018.
Market estimates see demand for cobalt, a key battery metal, reaching 200,0000 tonnes per year by 2020. The problem, says Amnesty, is that no country legally requires companies to publicly report on their cobalt supply chains.
More transparency could help improve working conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which generates more than 60% of the world’s cobalt.
Much of the country’s production is sent to China to be processed by multiple companies before it is used in batteries. In addition, up to 20% of the DRC’s cobalt is mined by hand, often by children with picks and shovels, as a previous Amnesty International investigation showed.
That research linked those mines to the supply chains of many of the world’s leading electronics brands and electric vehicle companies.
Amnesty said it is collaborating with Greenpeace to identify and map human rights and environmental impacts of EV battery production.