Climate Justice: How do we make sure rechargeable batteries respect human rights?
There’s a good chance that the laptop, tablet or phone that you are using to read this contains a battery. Perhaps you have recently ridden in an electric car or on an e-bike? That’s right, battery power that we probably take for granted. We don’t give a thought to the minerals inside that allow batteries to hold a charge and power our devices. Unfortunately, many of the minerals are tainted with human rights abuses. It’s time to recharge for rights and achieve climate justice.
Cobalt and lithium are two of the key minerals required to make lithium-ion batteries. Industry demand for both is likely to grow exponentially within the next decade. Over 125 million electric vehicles will likely be on the road by 2030 – a 40% increase over the current number. Without adequate human rights protections the impact will be devastating for people involved in the extraction of these minerals. We need to demand strong government regulation of the industry and enforcement of human rights and environmental protections.
What should governments be doing to tackle the climate crisis?
To tackle the climate crisis, governments must drive the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and green technology. For this transition to be fair and accessible to everyone, governments must urgently invest in a just transition.
Years of unregulated industry practices means that the adverse side of the battery boom is being felt by communities, especially in the ‘Lithium Triangle’ of Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, and the cobalt-mining region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Amnesty International calls on governments to legally require companies to respect human rights and to carry out human rights due diligence. Mining companies and battery manufacturers must ensure their operations have the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples. They must respect the environment and human rights wherever they operate.
We also call on Canada to legislate take-back and recycling of batteries by manufacturers to ensure robust recycling and repurposing occurs. Furthermore, we believe that Canada should tax the use of virgin materials and incentivize the use of recycled materials. This will ease the demand on communities and ecosystems that are under pressure to agree to new and expanded mines
What should companies be doing to address the climate crisis?
Companies have a long way to go in demonstrating that their operations do not harm human rights or the environment. Poor industry regulation, or even self-regulation, has led to devastated and contaminated environments, human rights abuses. This results in divided communities and alarming levels of corruption. Amnesty International calls on companies to proactively identify and address risks for people and the environment from their operations. Companies must provide for remediation in case of harm and improve battery design for longer use and recyclability.
‘Stop Paving Over our Rights’ Comic Book Ready for Distribution
We are pleased to announce that Amnesty International Canada has recently printed 5,000 copies of our latest comic book titled “Stop Paving over our Rights: How to have fewer cars, less pollution, and better transportation for all.” The idea of the comic book is adapted from our comprehensive climate justice policy document, “Stop Burning our Rights: What governments and corporations must do to protect humanity from the climate crisis.”
The comic books are now ready for distribution from our Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver offices. If you are interested in getting a copy or handing out the comic book within your community, please feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to have Fewer Cars, Less Pollution, and Better Transportation for All
One of the policy recommendations in this document urges governments to stop spending public funding on “urban highway expansion and instead promote the development of low-carbon transportation infrastructure”.
Transportation stands as the second-largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in Canada. Expanding highways would only worsen the climate crisis, further entrench our dependence on fossil fuels, and impact our rights to a healthy environment. Our comic book serves as a powerful medium to shed light on these pressing challenges and emphasizes the urgent need for meaningful climate action.
Stop Paving Over Our Rights comic book
Read our previous comic book on Rechargeable Batteries and Just Transition
How can we make sure human rights are at the center of a Just Transition?
Human rights must be at the centre of climate justice and a just transition to a zero-carbon future. To minimize the harmful effects of climate change on human rights, Canada must reduce its fossil fuel dependency and greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. Central to this shift is a massive increase in the use of rechargeable batteries.
There is nothing stopping governments from reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also protecting human rights. It is not an either / or choice. Governments must make it a legal requirement for batteries to be produced in ways that respect human rights.
Other human rights and environmental risks associated with batteries are emerging.
Recharge for Rights comic book
Communities at the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis
Cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
More than half of the world’s total supply of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According to the government’s own estimates, 20% of the cobalt currently exported from the DRC comes from artisanal miners in the southern part of the country. There are approximately 110,000 to 150,000 artisanal miners in this region, who work near much larger industrial operations.
- Artisanal miners, referred to as creuseurs in the DRC, mine by hand using the most basic tools to dig out rocks from tunnels deep underground. Artisanal miners include children as young as seven years old who scavenge for rocks containing cobalt in the discarded by-products of industrial mines. Miners must wash and sort the ore before they take it to buyers.
- Chronic exposure to dust containing cobalt can result in a potentially fatal lung disease, called “hard metal lung disease.” Inhalation of cobalt particles can also cause “respiratory sensitization, asthma, shortness of breath, and decreased pulmonary function.” Sustained skin contact with cobalt can lead to dermatitis.
- Most miners, who spend long hours every day working with cobalt, do not have the most basic of protective equipment, such as gloves, work clothes or face masks. UNICEF estimated in 2014 that about 40,000 children work in all the mines across the southern DRC, many of them involved in cobalt mining. They work long days, carry heavy loads, and earn between US$1-$2 dollars per day.
Governments must prohibit and eliminate all forms of child labour.
Companies must not use or benefit from child labour in their supply chains. Amnesty calls on companies to investigate their supply chains and admit to human rights abuses if they find them.
Where a company has contributed to, or benefited from, child labour or adults working in dangerous conditions, it has a responsibility to remediate the harm suffered. This means working with other companies and the government to remove children from the worst forms of child labour. They must also support reintegrating children into schools, and address their health and psychological needs.
Lithium mining in the Argentine Salt Flats
The Kolla and Atacama Indigenous peoples have lived in the Salinas Grandes basin and Lake Guayatayoc regions for generations. The Salinas Grandes is the third largest salt flat in Latin America and a natural wonder of Argentina. It is a delicate ecosystem of rare beauty and culturally and spiritually significant to the Indigenous peoples who care for it. These two areas, known as part of the ‘lithium triangle’ may contain about 70% of the world’s lithium supply. The Jujuy provincial government has decreed it a strategic resource for development.
There are no active lithium extraction projects underway in the area, but the government has granted numerous exploration licenses. And despite the delicacy and scarcity of the basin’s water resources, the government has yet to carry out baseline water studies to understand the potential impact of lithium exploration and exploitation.
Governments need to act to protect the climate and human rights
It is urgent that the government recognize this region as one watershed – the Salinas Grandes-Lake Guayatayoc basin – and carry out exhaustive and specific impact studies in line with international environmental and human rights standards.
As companies push deeper into communities in search of valuable mineral deposits to exploit, governments are often willing to sacrifice the rights of Indigenous peoples. Howover, the right to determine what type of development or economic activity is to take place on Indigenous lands and territories is up to the Indigenous peoples themselves. Some communities enter into agreements with their governments or companies to exploit resources and receive financial or other benefits from doing so. Other communities may oppose resource development for cultural, environmental, spiritual or other reasons related to the protection of their basic rights.
All decision-making related to lithium study and extraction in the Salinas Grandes and Lake Guayatayoc watershed must involve Indigenous peoples. Climate justice respects human rights including the right to free, prior, and informed consent.
Powering Change: Just Transition includes Just Transportation
For more about climate change and why governments and corporations must take responsibility to urgently stop it click here.
We all want a future that is not fossil fuel-dependent but instead is renewable, accessible and leaves no one behind. You only need to look around to know the use of electric bikes and cars in Canada is growing. And demand will increase as governments phase out fossil fuels and require auto makers to build more – and better – electric vehicles.
It will be difficult, wasteful and costly to replace every fossil fuel powered vehicle on the road today with an electric one. Authorities need to reduce the number of vehicles on the road, incentivize ride-sharing and increase affordable public transit. With this in mind, governments must provide public transit not only for urban populations, but also for people living in rural and Indigenous communities. Authorities must ensure that women, people with disabilities and children have access to safe, affordable and timely public transit.
Learn more about Climate Justice and a Just Transition
Have you thought about how often you use single-use and rechargeable batteries at home or at work? Test your own awareness: take our fun personal battery audit!
Personal Battery Audit
Cobalt mining. The Democratic Republic of the Congo supplies half of the world’s cobalt. One fifth of it is extracted by artisanal (or informal) miners and around 40,000 children work in these mines.
Lithium mining. Indigenous communities in Argentina are not being properly consulted about mining on their lands which could potentially pollute their water.
High carbon footprint of battery manufacture. Most of the current manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries is concentrated in China, South Korea and Japan. Electricity generation here remains dependent on coal and other polluting sources of power.
Deep-sea mining. Rising demand for minerals has led to a surge in interest in deep-sea mining. Studies predict this will have serious and irreversible impacts on biodiversity.
Reuse and recovery. Companies need to ensure greater production of batteries does not result in illegal or dangerous dumping or export.