The U.S. federal government has for the first time included materials needed in the construction of electric cars on the list of those for which child labor is used.
The updated list was released this week by the Biden administration, reports Gizmodo. The materials listed in the document are polysilicon, used in the construction of solar panels, and cobalt, an essential element in Li-ion batteries.
Demand for the two materials will grow exponentially in the coming period as a green revolution is underway. Demand for cobalt is expected to increase by 21% in 2021.
In Congo, home to 70% of the world’s discovered cobalt resources, tens of thousands of miners in the industry are children, some as young as 6. Some of the minors even work 12-hour days for just a few dollars a day.
On the other hand, about 45% of the quality polysilicon needed to build solar panels, including those used in electric cars, is produced in China’s Xinjiang region. Examples of cars that include panels are Aptera, Lightyear One or Sion.
People exploited, ecosystems destroyed
Research shows that the Beijing government is forcing Uighurs and other Muslim minorities to work in the field. Many of these workers are children. Because of this, the US last year banned imports of polysilicon from certain Chinese companies involved in exploiting these minorities. However, the US still allows imports of cobalt from China.
The Biden administration has announced a massive green energy investment program, but has not said how it will try to solve problems in the materials supply chain. In addition to miners and minorities being exploited, there is also the problem of pollution: many entities in the industry cause massive environmental damage when they mine the materials.
For example, “Tiehm’s Buckwheat”, a plant species discovered less than 40 years ago in the US state of Nevada, could become extinct because of the growing need for lithium for electric car batteries.