What is often described as the overlooked dirty side of clean energy—the supply chains for some of the minerals essential to expanding the world’s stock of batteries for everything from pacemakers to city grids—may get a little cleaner as two separate electronics industry groups target abuses in mining.
One of those critical minerals is cobalt. “About 60% of the world’s cobalt originates in the Congo, where hand-dug mines rife with dangers attract legions of poorly-equipped ‘artisanal’ miners who work for as little as $2 a day,” the Washington Post reports. But now, Apple, HP, Samsung, and Sony are among the global companies that have joined the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, led by a Chinese metals industry group.
“Members of the initiative pledged to follow Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines for mining supply chains, which call for companies to trace how cobalt is being extracted, transported, manufactured, and sold. Any abuses would require immediate correction.”
Critics cautiously welcomed the initiative. “Implementation is obviously what it’s all about,” said Amnesty International researcher Mark Dummett. “We’d now like to see the downstream companies like Apple and Samsung disclose the names of their cobalt smelters, as well as disclose the risks they have identified in their supply chains.”
Separately, the Post adds, the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition is pressing to “expand scrutiny of supply chains beyond the traditional four ‘conflict’ minerals” covered by U.S. legislation—tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold.
Neither business group, however, was reported as targeting another mineral critical to clean energy: lithium.
“The silvery-white metal is essential for the lithium-ion batteries that power smart phones, laptops, and electric vehicles,” the Post wrote late last year, “and the popularity of these products has prompted a land rush [in South America]. Mining companies have for years been extracting billions of dollars of lithium from the Atacama region” in Chile and neighbouring Argentina. “But the impoverished [Indigenous] Atacamas have seen little of the riches.