Amnesty urges bold action to clean up the battery industry

Ensuring clean and green battery supply chains must be a priority for businesses and governments during the post-pandemic recovery, Amnesty International said today. The organization has published a set of principles for ensuring that lithium-ion batteries, which power electric vehicles and many electronic devices, and which are essential for tackling climate change, are not linked to human rights abuses or environmental harm. 

Previous Amnesty research exposed how cobalt mined by children in the DRC could be entering the supply chains of some of the world’s biggest electronic and electric vehicle brands, while in South America, evidence points to lithium extraction posing risks to Indigenous peoples’ water resources and fragile ecosystems. Meanwhile the growing demand for “green” battery technologies poses new risks to the environment, including pollution of mining areas, damage to the ocean floor, and mounting waste due to inefficient design. 

“While technologies like electric vehicles are essential for shifting away from fossil fuels, the battery revolution carries its own risks for human rights and the planet. This is a critical moment to rethink the way our economies and industries operate – amid the nightmare of the pandemic, there is a chance to build a fairer and more sustainable future,” said Mark Dummett, Director of Amnesty International’s Global Issues Programme.

“We are calling on businesses at all stages of the battery supply chain to do their bit to ensure they are truly powering change. Human rights must be at the core of their operations – this might mean making supply chains more transparent, providing remedy where they have caused harm, or ensuring Indigenous communities are consulted on mining projects that affect them. 

“Governments also need to show leadership by supporting investments and energy solutions rooted in a just transition. Lack of respect for human rights should be a dealbreaker for any business involved in the battery industry – that means governments need to enforce environmental protection laws, investigate allegations of abuses, and make human rights due diligence a legal requirement.” 

Tara Scurr, Amnesty International Canada’s Business and Human Rights Campaigner, added: “Canadian exploration companies are at the forefront of lithium exploration in South America and have a clear responsibility to ensure their operations don’t harm human rights, including the rights of Indigenous peoples whose traditional territories they wish to exploit. We are approaching the tenth anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which means companies have had plenty of time to ensure their operations respect rights. The time to act is now.”

Powering Change 

In Powering Change: Principles for Businesses and Governments in the Battery Value Chain, Amnesty International sets out key principles that governments and businesses should respect to avoid causing, contributing or being directly linked to human rights abuses and environmental harm. 

A number of other human rights and environmental organizations have signed up to the principles – a full list can be viewed in the attached document.

The principles apply to any businesses involved in the industry, including the finance sector, which is funding a vast expansion of green energy and battery technology through large “ESG” funds. 

Amnesty International calls on manufacturers to design batteries for maximum resource efficiency, including innovations to use fewer materials and minerals, and to work towards 100% safely recycled content in batteries.

The briefing also highlights the dangers of seabed mining and calls on businesses and governments to proactively support a moratorium on the practice.  

Amnesty International also calls on governments and businesses to work with environmental rights defenders and Indigenous communities, ensuring they are consulted and properly informed about planned operations and potential risks. It is imperative that all companies obtain consent from Indigenous communities before moving forward on development and extractive projects. 

“Businesses should treat environmental and human rights defenders as allies, not opponents,” said Mark Dummett. “Putting corporate interests above protecting human rights and the environment has been the status quo for too long. The result is shocking global inequality, devastating climate change, and a seemingly endless stream of bad news about the future. It doesn’t have to be this way – we must ensure that new technologies put us all on a path to a better place.”