An EV battery prototype. Source: BMW
An EV battery prototype. Source: BMW

European carmaker BMW has announced that it will buy cobalt for electric car batteries direct from Australia and Morocco in an effort to ensure it is not sourcing materials from countries that use child labour.

Confirmed by Andreas Wendt, BMW board member responsible for procurement at a briefing in Paris on Tuesday (US time), the decision comes as the London Metal Exchange (LME) said it may delist brands that do not source materials responsibly by 2022.

The decision was confirmed by a spokesperson from Glencore, which last year produced 2,900 tonnes of cobalt from its Murrin Murrin mine in the North Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia, according to Reuters.

Wendt told the Paris briefing that the German carmaker’s next generation of EVs will use batteries made from the new supply of cobalt starting from 2020.

With a rapidly growing global electric car market, there has been much criticism as to whether the sources of materials used in battery production are bought from ethical sources – child labour being a major concern.

In 2014, UNICEF estimated from 40,000 children were working illegally in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is home to the world’s largest reserves of the rare metal which is a key component in lithium-ion batteries.

Amnesty International says that the rapidly growing demand for cobalt has lead to mining operations in the DRC luring more and more children into working the mines, where conditions are extremely hazardous, for up to 20 hours a day.

BMW has previously sourced cobalt from the DRC, and last said it would explore ways to improve working conditions in that country through a pilot project.

The German carmaker also committed in 2018 to creating a closed loop lifecycle for EV batteries, in a deal inked last October with Swedish battery company Northvolt and Belgian materials and recycling group Umicore.

It plans to start manufacturing the recyclable batteries starting mid-2019.

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