As automakers develop more efficient electric motors, EVs pulling electrons from dirtier, coal-powered grids are as clean or cleaner than even the most efficient fossil-fueled cars when it comes to equivalent tailpipe emissions.
But electric vehicles still have a supply-chain problem.
A partnership between some of the world's largest automakers is looking to fix it.
On Wednesday, the Drive Sustainability partnership announced it would establish a "Raw Materials Observatory" to address and rectify "ethical, environment, human and labor rights issues" in sourcing raw materials, Reuters reports.
The partnership is coordinated by CSR Europe, a business network for corporate social responsibility, and counts 10 members: VW, Toyota Motor Europe, Ford, Daimler (parent of Mercedes-Benz and Smart), BMW, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo Cars, and truckmakers Scania (a VW Group truck brand) and Volvo Group.
“The Raw Material Observatory will assess the risks posed by the top raw materials (such as mica, cobalt, rubber, leather and others) in the automotive sector," said executive director of CSR Europe Stefan Crets in a release.
Child laborers in wolframite and casserite mine, Kailo, DRC, by Julien Harneis, 2007 [CC BY-SA 2.0]
"This will allow Drive Sustainability to identify the most impactful activities to pursue in order to address the human, ethical and environmental issues within the supply chain.”
The Dragonfly Initiative will perform a risk assessment of these top materials and Drive Sustainability will unveil an action plan on these items in 2018.
Likely of particular interest will be the sourcing of raw materials from politically unstable regions and states with little or no protections for workers and children.
For instance, approximately half of the world's cobalt supply in mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where UNICEF estimated 40,000 children worked in mines in 2014.
In November, BMW announced it would improve transparency of its battery-cell supply chain, which includes cell suppliers and sub-suppliers that source cobalt from DRC.
BMW stated its goal is to improve working conditions in the African nation.
2014 BMW i3 electric cars on the assembly line in Leipzig, Germany
Drive Sustainability is discussing efforts to achieve a "100% responsible Indian Mica supply" in the next five years.
It hopes to do that by partnering with the Responsible Mica Initiative, a "do-tank" that aims to eliminate child labor and improve working conditions in the Indian mica industry.
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The partnership was founded five years ago and it expanded in March 2017 to include an automotive partnership.
The automotive panel's mission is to "drive sustainability throughout the automotive supply chain by promoting a common approach within the industry and by integrating sustainability in the overall procurement process."