The news of switching to green technology is an exciting one for everyone. Electric vehicles are gaining tremendous acceptance, with the climate change topic sweeping across the globe and the need to keep the environment safe.
Using electric cars will significantly improve air quality and reduce the impact of carbon emissions on the planet. However, this exciting news comes at a price, as most automakers have hidden facts about their production.
According to Amnesty International, cobalt is one of the critical ingredients in manufacturing rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and is not appropriately sourced.
The organization claimed that cobalt mining is carried out by children and adults in highly hazardous conditions. This component is found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which boasts a vast cobalt deposit.
We will look at 4 ethical problems with electric cars in this article.
1. Environmentally Harmful Extraction of Lithium
Lithium is used to make batteries. The material is used to make the batteries of mobile phones, laptops, powered tools, and of course, electric car batteries.
Australia is the largest producer of lithium in the world. Some parts of Europe, Chile, Argentina, China, and the United Kingdom also have high-grade lithium deposits.
The most renowned lithium reserves are based in Bolivia, China, and Argentina.
Lithium is found in underground reservoirs beneath salt flats. In many parts of the world, mining lithium is a controversial issue because of its impact on the environment.
To get to the lithium, miners pump the brine, then evaporate the water, leaving behind the precious power-storing substance that powers EVs.
This destructive mining technique causes serious harm to the water balance in communities close to the mines. Regrettably, lithium mining has led to conflict and sparked protests from the local community groups.
2. Sourcing of Cobalt Under Inhumane Conditions
About 70% of the world’s cobalt can be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and there are reports that a small amount of the cobalt is sourced from small mines where the working conditions are not suitable for humans.
Workers, including children and young adults, are not offered protective gear to dig the tunnels. The country is one of the poorest nations in the world, and cobalt is a resource that many are willing to kill for.
Electric vehicles make use of cobalt, a crucial component for the production of their batteries. The mining of cobalt is considered dangerous to the environment as it pollutes the rivers and the communities.
In 2019, Tesla and other tech brands were faced with litigation for enabling dangerous child labor for their cobalt supplies. Although the court dismissed the lawsuit, it has been appealed by the prosecutors.
In an attempt to curb the activities of these mines, some companies have stopped buying from them. This does not sit well with these mines, but there have been calls for improving working conditions for employees in those mines.
For instance, initiatives such as the Responsible Cobalt Initiative and Fair Cobalt Alliance have called for a healthy working environment.
The raw materials required for lithium-ion batteries are extracted at the expense of the environment and human beings. For instance, safety hazards in informal work, poverty, child labor, and pollution are parts of the problems.
Cobalt mining also comes with severe health challenges. When individuals who work on the mining sites are exposed to cobalt dust, it can lead to an acute lung disease, popularly known as the hard metal lung disease.
Battery production accounts for about 60% of the 125,000 tonnes of cobalt mined annually across the globe.
There is also a recycling problem regarding eleven million tonnes of spent lithium-ion batteries forecast to be disposed of by 2030. There are few systems to enable recycling in a circular economy for batteries.
3. Aluminum Supply Issues
Automakers use about one-fifth of the aluminum supply in the world. Unfortunately, a large chunk of aluminum is manufactured from bauxite rather than recycled.
Guinea has the largest deposit of bauxite, while Australia is the largest producer of this crucial component. There are water and land grabbing issues in these countries because of aluminum mining activities.
The Aluminum Stewardship Initiative was created in 2015 to audit smelters, refineries, and mines. Interestingly, BMW, Volkswagen, and Daimler are part of the renowned brands that have joined the certificate scheme.
4. Failure to Protect the Rights of Employees
The automotive industry is complicated, and an average electric car has more than 25,000 parts.
Automakers need to ensure a transparent reportage of the supply chain management and the steps to protect employees in the industry.
Unfortunately, most automakers fail to protect workers’ rights on their payroll. Volvo and Stellantis achieved a fair rating out of the ratings by the World Benchmarking Alliance.
The World Benchmarking Alliance was created in 2018 and is partly funded by the German, Swedish, Dutch, Danish, and UK governments.
In 2020, this body found out that most automotive brands have weak supply chain management and remain a sector that performs poorly regarding protecting employees’ rights.
For instance, popular automakers such as Nissan, Mitsubishi, Tesla, Suzuki, and Geely have low records in the WBA.
Many of the issues raised here are directly related to the supply chains serving the electric car industry and the automotive industry as a whole. However, there is a need to reduce carbon emissions from the transport sector.
One brilliant solution is to ensure the development of battery technology that utilizes eco-friendly materials.
Based on other propositions of experts, it is better to optimize battery design to make the procedure of recycling easier.
There are concerns about using fossil fuels on diesel plants and coal to generate energy to produce electric vehicles. This is even higher than the energy required for producing conventional cars.
When there was a proposal to ban the sales of tainted cobalt by the London Metal Exchange in 2018, some NGOs rebuffed the move, including Amnesty International, making a case that it would make the trade go secretive.
To solve these ethical issues, all stakeholders must carry out technological innovation in the name of sustainability in a way that does not bring injustice and suffering to other individuals.