Amnesty International Calls For Ethical Battery Technology

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Most of us are giggling with joy as more electric cars, electric buses, electric trucks, electric ships, and electric planes are sold, believing they are crucial to fighting the dangers created by a warming planet. But on the sidelines, some are warning that the process of producing lithium-ion batteries is having serious unintended environmental consequences that need to be addressed.

EV battery

“Finding effective solutions to the climate crisis is an absolute imperative, and electric cars have an important role to play in this. But without radical changes, the batteries which power green vehicles will continue to be tainted by human rights abuses,” said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“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, and we are challenging them to come back to Oslo next year with proof of real progress. 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.”

“Every stage of the battery lifecycle, from mineral extraction to disposal, carries human rights and environmental risks,” he added. “We need to change course now, or those least responsible for climate change — indigenous communities and children — will pay the price for the shift away from fossil fuels. The energy solutions of the future must not be based on the injustices of the past.”

Environmental & Ethical Concerns

The organization has concerns about child labor abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as health impacts on local populations in the vicinity of lithium mining operations in Argentina. In particular, it believes they are not being properly informed about the effects such mining can have on their drinking water.

The search for raw materials has led to renewed interest in mining the ocean floor — a process that poses hazards to marine life. A study by scientists from the University of Exeter concluded last year that deep-sea mining could lead to the release of toxic elements and to rapid loss of marine species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature  estimates that commercial mining could start in 2020 in Papua New Guinea’s national waters and by 2025 in international waters.

Taking Responsibility For Supply Chains

Amnesty International is calling on battery, electric car manufacturers, and tech companies to require ethical practices throughout their supply chain. It acknowledges that some companies, including Apple, BMW, Daimler and Renault, are now publishing data about their supply chains.

“With a climate crisis looming, consumers have the right to demand that products marketed as the ethical choice really stand up to scrutiny,” Naidoo said. “Companies who overlook human rights concerns as they clean up their energy sources are presenting their customers with a false choice — people or planet. This approach is gravely flawed and will not deliver the sustainable changes we need to save humanity from climate devastation. We are asking industry leaders to think hard about what kind of future they want to build.”

Three Areas Of Concern

It calls upon global manufacturers to focus on three primary areas when it comes to battery powered products and ethics:

Extraction: Mapping supply chains of key minerals, calling for human rights impacts to be identified, prevented and addressed, and calling for a prohibition on commercial deep-sea mining;

Manufacturing: Calling for carbon footprints to be properly disclosed, minimized, and offset; and for rights to and at work, including health, equality and non-discrimination, to be legally protected and enforced;

Re-use and recovery: Calling for products to be designed and regulated so that their potential for re-use is optimized and waste is penalized; and illegal or dangerous exportation and dumping of batteries is prevented.

Ethics Are Important To EV Revolution

Some would argue that Amnesty International is threatening to kill the vibe that surrounds electric transportation technologies, but its concerns have merit. If the EV revolution is just going to replace fossil fuel pollution with other kinds of pollution, then the whole process is a fool’s errand. It is hardly appropriate to berate the fossil fuel companies for polluting the oceans with their offshore oil rigs while mining the ocean floor for battery raw materials.

If the business practices associated with promoting electric transportation are just as exploitative as those associated with traditional manufacturing, there will be fewer reasons to celebrate the transition. While making the change to electric transportation, we must be careful not to simply switch one rapacious business model — the one pursued by fossil fuel interests for over a century — for another equally rapacious model.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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