Electric cars are powered by African child labor. It is a fact. It has been widely reported by news organizations worldwide. It has been documented by Amnesty International and UNICEF. And it is ugly. It’s so ugly that those companies and state regulators promoting electric cars in California have neglected to inform their customers and the public. But now that we know, we have an obligation to fix the problem. And we can.
Today, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, African children are being exploited to mine cobalt, an essential ingredient in modern electric car batteries. It’s estimated that 24% of the cobalt mined is at excavation sites that use child labor. Yet somewhere in the race to a future where our children will be shuttled in battery powered cars, we have forgotten about other people’s children.
We formed the Blood Battery Action Network because if child labor was wrong in 1919, then child labor is wrong in 2019. Whether it’s white children or black children, it should not matter.
In California’s push to address our climate crisis, our lawmakers and regulators have been silent about this human rights crisis which is fueling California’s efforts. The Blood Battery Action Network is working to end child labor in the mining of cobalt by harnessing California’s efforts to address climate change.
As a major force behind the demand for electric cars, California policy-makers are providing financial subsidies (public dollars) to those people lucky enough to be able to purchase an electric car. The policy-makers call it a “market incentive.”
If California policy-makers withhold those public subsidies from car companies who can’t guarantee that their supply chains are free of child labor, then those car companies will work hard to ensure that their supply chains are free of child labor. It’s a simple “market incentive” and California can demand it.
As one of the largest automotive markets in the United States, California has enormous market-setting powers. If car companies want to sell cars in California, then they’re required to meet the tight fuel-economy standards set by California. Because California makes up such a large portion of the automobile market, cars with California’s tight fuel economy standards are now sold throughout the United States.
We do understand that cobalt is used in a variety of industries including the automobile industry. However, as reported by The Washington Post, Reuters, Bloomberg News and many others, the sharp rise in child labor in cobalt mining is being driven by the increased demand from electric car makers.
Many of us are proud of California’s efforts to help address climate change. But we can harness our efforts to stop an environmental crisis to also stop a human rights crisis. That’s our goal.
Wil Hardee is the President of the Blood Battery Action Network and is the past President/CEO of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce. Previously, Hardee worked for PG&E as the company’s Public Affairs Director, East Bay.