Child cobalt miners: Automakers pledge ethical minerals sourcing for EVs

'Drive Sustainability' alliance to invest in ethical mining of cobalt, graphite and lithium.

BERLIN - Leading carmakers including Volkswagen and Toyota pledged on Wednesday to uphold ethical and socially responsible standards in their purchases of minerals for an expected boom in electric vehicle production.

Demand for minerals such as cobalt, graphite and lithium is forecast to soar in the coming years as governments crack down on vehicle pollution and carmakers step up their investments in electric models.

To cover its plans for more than 80 new models by 2025, Volkswagen alone is looking for partners in China, Europe and North America to provide battery cells and related technology worth more than 50 billion euros ($59 billion).

Talks with major cobalt producers, including Glencore, at VW's Wolfsburg headquarters last week ended without a deal.

More than half of the world's cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country racked by political instability and legal opacity, and where child labor is used in mines.

On Wednesday, a group of 10 leading passenger-car and truck manufacturers announced an initiative to jointly identify and address ethical, environmental, human and labor rights issues in raw materials sourcing.

The partnership dubbed "Drive Sustainability" consists of VW, Toyota Motor Europe, Ford, Daimler, BMW, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo Cars and truckmakers Scania and Volvo.

The alliance "will assess the risks posed by the top raw materials (such as mica, cobalt, rubber and leather) in the automotive sector," said Stefan Crets of the CSR Europe business network.

"This will allow Drive Sustainability to identify the most impactful activities to pursue" to address issues within the supply chain.

Reporting by Andreas Cremer.

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