As electric car production increases, the ethical issues surrounding the sourcing of materials, particularly cobalt, for their batteries are getting more attention. Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler hopes to do its part by joining the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, which seeks to find ethical ways to source the material. Daimler also joined similar initiatives for other raw materials.
Cobalt is a vital material in the lithium-ion batteries used in current electric cars. But the supply is limited, and mining has led to concerns over violations of human rights. Most of the world's cobalt is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has a poor human-rights record and unstable government. Much of the country's cobalt is mined by hand, sometimes by children.
"Companies which work with cobalt as a raw material face the risk of not being able to complete exclude the violation of human rights during cobalt extraction," a Daimler statement said. The automaker hopes to address this through its participation in the Responsible Cobalt Initiative. Through that organization, Daimler said it will work with other companies, governments, NGOs, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) "to develop measures aimed at combating social and ecological risks along the entire cobalt supply chain," including elimination of cobalt mined using child labor.
The problems surrounding cobalt have led to a search for alternative materials and sources. Panasonic, which is concerned it may have inadvertently supplied batteries to Tesla containing Cuban cobalt, has said it is working on cobalt-free batteries. The United Kingdom is looking into the possibility of reviving disused mines to supply the material. However, these initiatives have shown little progress so far.
Daimler simultaneously announced that it will join the Responsible Minerals Initiative, Aluminum Stewardship Initiative, and Responsible Steel Initiative. All three seek to develop independent criteria to ensure that raw materials are sourced according to certain social and environmental standards.