Capitol Democrats are placing the burdens of reaching environmental goals using electric vehicles on the backs of children. There are over 500,000 electric vehicles on our roads today powered by ‘dirty’ batteries made from the labor of children of the Congo.”

In an April 23rd Press Release, California Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, announced that her Assembly Bill 735, at which this writer testified in favor of on April 22nd, the Air Quality Improvement Program: Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, which stops the use of child labor in the supply chains of electric vehicles, failed in the Assembly Transportation Committee.

The “elephant” in the room of rechargeable batteries is the EV.  The, Tesla battery weighs in excess of 1,000 pounds, while the iPhone battery is only 0.026kg. California already has 50% of the EV’s in America. To meet former California Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive orders to push the state toward having 5 million electric cars on its roads by 2030 would mean there will be 5 BILLION pounds of lithium-ion batteries just in California.

It’s not known if there is enough cobalt and lithium available in the world to meet that executive order, or how many children’s diseases or lives may be lost while mining for cobalt and lithium. With no plan currently in place to recycle lithium products when they reach their end, the world could literally run out of these exotic minerals in a few short years.

The key minerals used in today’s batteries are cobalt of which 60% is sourced from one country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and lithium of which more than 50% is sourced from the Lithium Triangle in South America, which covers parts of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. Today 20% of cobalt is mined by hand. Amnesty International has documented children and adults mining cobalt in narrow man-made tunnels, at risk of fatal accidents and serious lung disease.

The mere extraction of the exotic minerals cobalt and lithium used in the batteries of EV’s present social challenges, human rights abuse challenges, and environmental challenges. Besides hazardous working conditions where the workers make such meager wages they are forced to live in abject poverty, they are regularly exposed to out of control pollution and countless other environmental issues which cannot be ignored.

The cobalt mined by children and adults in horrendous conditions in the DRC in Africa is entering the supply chains of some of the world’s biggest brands. There are no known “clean” supply chains for lithium and cobalt, yet the richest most powerful companies in the world are still making numerous, creative, and complex excuses for not investigating their supply chains. 

It’s not in the best interests of a for profit company to turn down a good deal when it comes to buying raw products in an already crowded market place. That’s why most large, I’m talking billion-dollar companies, don’t really do the research they should on companies whose prices are so good on bulk materials they really don’t want to know the ins and outs. They turn a blind eye to the realities of the dirty secrets of the lithium and cobalt acquisition and procurement side.

AB 735 would have held major EV automakers accountable for their supply chain integrity while building those cars. Defeating the bill was our lawmakers’ way to encourage continued exploitation of horrendous labor and environmental conditions by automobile manufacturers who make a healthy profit off of selling EV’s with “dirty batteries. 

In driving this environmental dream the Democrats are fueling their environmental policies on the backs of these poor children,” Melendez said. “When members place environmental goals before kids something is incredibly wrong.  We should be showing the nation that our growing fleet of electric vehicles comes with a guarantee that our state is not subsidizing child labor.”

Today’s lawmakers may be reluctant to lay the hammer down on the automobile industry and force them to be transparent in the supply chain for those rechargeable batteries, but the buyers, with two laws already on the books for Transparency in the Supply Chain, California’s SB657 and the Federal HR4842, are presented the opportunities for class action lawsuits against those manufacturers who continuously fail to comply with current laws.

We all know there is no love lost between California and Washington politics. However, since California is the 5th largest economy in the world, the policies and decisions made in California may be promoting and sanctioning these crimes through the purchase of goods and products that have been tainted in the supply chain.

The energy solutions of the future must not be built on human rights abuses or on non-existent environmental regulations. The State may wish to turn a blind eye toward those abuses, but you, the buyer, ethically need to pay attention to the man behind the curtain to assure yourself that you don’t have a “dirty battery” in your EV or electronic device, or “dirty fuel” in your vehicles.

NOTE: The John McGinnis Show on Radio Station: KFBK-FM in Sacramento conducted a telephone interview with me on April 23rd on the same subject. You can hear the 11 minute interview at this link.

Author

  • Ron Stein is an engineer who, drawing upon 25 years of project management and business development experience, launched Principal Technical Services (PTS) in 1995. He writes frequently on issues of energy and economics.