American electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc. decided to support artisanal cobalt miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo by joining the Fair Cobalt Alliance. The car maker wants to show to its clients that all of its battery metals are ethically mined.
The alliance has the support of the Swiss commodity trading and mining company Glencore Plc and major Chinese cobalt refiner Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Co, among others. Tesla struck a deal with Glencore earlier this year to buy cobalt from its Congo mines.
Around three-quarters of the world’s cobalt production comes from the DRC. Although the cobalt supply is plenty for now, the demand for cobalt is expected to skyrocket in the coming years as electric vehicles become commonplace around the world.
Cobalt is a raw material that is on the one hand important for the production of lithium-ion batteries, but on the other hand has been repeatedly criticized for problematic mining conditions. These include hazardous mine shafts, lack of basic supplies and the systemic occurrence of child labour.
Cobalt is one of the most controversial parts of electric vehicle production because of the questionable mining efforts that take place. However, Tesla has been diligent in its efforts to obtain responsibly sourced cobalt, and it detailed its process for mining the element in its most recent Environmental Impact Report.
“Tesla is committed to making working conditions in our supply chain safe and humane, ensuring that workers are treated with respect and dignity and that manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible,” the report indicated. Tesla has tried to remove cobalt altogether from its batteries. However, that technology is not yet available. While controversial, cobalt is a beneficial element in batteries. It stabilizes the battery during operation and also increases the longevity of the cell.