The global battery market is growing every day, with the increase in demand for electric vehicles and batteries for electronics such as smartphones.
This poses a problem, and it’s inherently an ethical one.
The difficulties of sourcing
Batteries are largely composed of conflict minerals such as 3TG (Tungsten, Tin, Tantalum and Gold) or cobalt. Lithium is another element that is often mined in unethical and unsustainable conditions. Lithium-ion batteries are becoming more and more popular recently, since they’re lighter and have better charging life.
While more and more companies are making corporate governance and traceable supply chains a priority, it’s not always that easy.
Supply chains become even more complex when companies source from artisanal mines (ASM). These are the worst perpetrators of violations of human rights. This is commonly seen in the the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the majority of cobalt and 3TGs are sourced from conflict areas.
ASMs may exploit workers through forced and child labour, as well as subjecting miners to unsafe conditions. Profit from mined minerals may also go back into funding conflict.
While most industrial scale miners do not source materials from ASMs, it’s almost impossible to know for sure that they haven’t.
Stopping ASM sourcing is not the answer
The obvious answer to this problem might appear to be stopping sourcing from ASMs altogether.
This doesn’t benefit the communities of artisanal miners.
In fact, though artisanal mining often involves human rights violations, it also sustains many communities economically. This is why miners should ensure sustainable prosperity for their mining operations before they cease to source from a certain area. When the prosperity of mines are removed, the communities face unemployment and economic downturn.
So, when companies cease to source from a certain mine, miners lose their reliable source of income.
What is the solution?
We can trace mineral supply chains with technology, but it requires diligence from all electronics and mineral mining companies.
Blockchain technology is ideal for supply chain tracking, because it provides a single source of truth. However, it also needs to be supported by automation and artificial intelligence. Through blockchain, supply chains can become transparent, traceable and reliable. That’s because blockchain is immutable, so records cannot be changed, and decentralised, so it can be accessible from anywhere.
Vendors are connected to the blockchain, and data is inputted, often with evidence. This way, it’s ensured that your supply chain is traceable, and any evidence of unethical labour is pinpointed and removed. Automation and AI support this by automating data and making intelligence predictions and conclusions based on supply chain data.