Monday, 18 December 2017

Conflict minerals in your gadgetry > the blood and sweat in phones and batteries

The future of driving is with new technologies:
Futures Forum: By 2030 you probably won't own the car you drive

But there are issues:

The Human Rights Issues That Could Taint Electric Cars

4 December 2017

Global demand for minerals like cobalt—an essential element in electric car batteries—continues to swell, and we might not even have enough to meet the needs of automakers. But the question of where we get those metals is an even more challenging. For instance the increasingly-unstable Democratic Republic of Congo is the world’s biggest source of cobalt, where child labor is reportedly used in cobalt mines.

The allegation alone taints an ever-relevant supply for the auto industry. But a new partnership launched among the 10 automakers—including Ford, BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen—says it wants to “identity and address” human and labor rights issues in the sourcing of raw materials.

The partnership is called “Drive Sustainability.” It is being coordinated through CSR Europe, a business network. Drive Sustainability’s initiative—the Raw Materials Observatory—will “assess the risks posed by the top raw materials” like mica, cobalt rubber, and leather, in the automotive sector, according to Stefan Crets, the executive director of CSR Europe.

The Human Rights Issues That Could Taint Electric Cars - Jalopnik
Futures Forum: The future of electric vehicles: the issues

However, the future with all its gadgetry is fuelling conflict:

Globalization represents the west’s colonization of the future, the imposition of “a single culture and civilization” upon the world. Nowhere is this grim connection more clear than, for instance, in the mining of conflict minerals like coltan, whose refined byproducts are used in various gadgets. 

Coltan is frequently mined in brutal camps in the Congo and on the Venezuela-Colombia border, its profits flowing to paramilitary groups. The West’s futuristic creature comforts depend on the exploitation of people in the Global South, who live far beyond the ambit of the enlightened, gadget-filled future.

Future Fail | Jacob Silverman
Futures Forum: The future, with all of its ideological baggage, and its smoldering graveyard of unfulfilled dreams, has failed us. We’d do well to abandon it, and start figuring out how we might survive the present.

These are called 'conflict minerals':

Coltan mining and ethics - Wikipedia
Conflict resource - Wikipedia

The European Union is now bringing in regulations:
Conflict Minerals Regulation explained - Trade - European Commission

Things were really bad during the Congo civil war some five, ten years ago:

Blood on Your Handset

Is your cellphone made with conflict minerals mined in the Congo? The industry doesn’t want you to know.

SEPT. 20 2013 11:54 AM
By Ciara Torres-Spelliscy

Gold miners form a human chain while digging an open pit at the Chudja mine near Kobu, Congo, in 2009. Civil conflict in Congo has been driven for more than a decade by the struggle for control over the country's vast natural resources, including gold, diamonds, and timber. Photo by Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters

If you are reading this on a smartphone, then you are probably holding in your palm the conflict minerals that have sent the biggest manufacturing trade group in the U.S. into a court battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission. At stake in this battle between the National Association of Manufacturers and the government is whether consumers will know the potentially blood-soaked origins of the products they use every day and who gets to craft rules for multinational corporations—Congress or the business itself.

The Dodd-Frank Act, passed in 2010, is primarily known as the law that tries to tighten regulation of the financial services industry and improve aspects of corporate governance. It also requires companies to track and report the conflict minerals used in their products. These minerals are tantalum (used in cellphones, DVD players, laptops, hard drives, and gaming devices), tungsten, tin, and gold, if they are mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding countries including Rwanda, where the mineral trade has fueled bloody conflicts.

Conflict minerals from the Congo: Is your cellphone made with them? - Slate

By 2015, though, the industry started to take this seriously:
How conflict minerals funded a war that killed millions, and why tech giants are finally cleaning up their act - TechRepublic

And two reports out last month showed that some tech companies are doing very well:
Apple, Google and other phone companies ranked for connections to wars and human rights abuses | The Independent
Chemical Watch | News Item | Chemicals: a core issue at Apple
Report: Apple and Google Rank Best at Keeping Materials Conflict-Free | Inverse

However, the US Administration would like to repeal key regulations:
Why Apple and Intel don’t want to see the conflict minerals rule rolled back - The Washington Post
Proposed Trump executive order would allow US firms to sell 'conflict minerals' | US news | The Guardian
U.S. Could Fuel War in Africa By Dropping Conflict Minerals Rule Argue Senators, Rights Groups - Newsweek
Has Trump Turned America Into a South American style Kleptocracy? - Newsweek
The House Passed a Budget Bill That Also Repeals Conflict Mineral Reporting Requirements - Motherboard

And meanwhile the conflicts continue:
Rebel Attack in East Congo Leaves 14 Peacekeepers Dead, UN Says - Bloomberg
Living in Shame: Combating Fistulas in Africa - SPIEGEL ONLINE

... as do the campaigns:
Robin Wright’s mission to end conflict minerals – The Lily
Congo's child labor spurs demand from Apple, Tesla for ethically produced cobalt - CBS News 

As the FT said a couple of weeks ago, it's bad for business:

The blood and sweat in phones and batteries

Cleaning up supply chains is a necessary part of defending a brand

Congo, the epitome of a failed state, produces more than half the world’s supply of cobalt © AFP

NOVEMBER 23, 201712

It took Nike nearly 15 years to clear the stain on its brand caused by revelations about its use of sweatshops in the developing world. Today, in light of subsequent scandals and tragedies, not only is there greater scrutiny of the global supply chains used by multinationals and wider consumer awareness of the pitfalls of outsourcing manufacturing. Technology has also made it easier to monitor where and under what conditions things are made. There should be fewer excuses therefore for unethical behaviour.

Yet big companies continue running into trouble. A Financial Times investigation revealed this week that Apple iPhones were being manufactured at a plant in China where school interns were forced to work illegal overtime. This was not the most shocking instance of exploitation. It is nonetheless unacceptable that one of the richest companies in the history of companies, had not conducted more effective due diligence of its supply chain.

Foxconn, the main supplier of iPhones had turned to cheap student labour to catch up with a rush of orders of Apple’s anniversary iPhone X. The company says it has now halted abuse at its Zhengzhou plant. But it should not have required bad publicity for them to do so. Increased demand is no excuse for condoning exploitation.

There are lessons in the Nike story. By 2005 the company became the first in its industry to publish a complete list of the factories it contracts with. It had also, in preceding years, conducted audits at 600 plants. These showed that abuses still occurred. But they also showed that the company was making an effort to end them.

The sportswear company was obliged to introduce this level of transparency to detoxify a brand, which in the words of one former chief executive had become “synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime and arbitrary abuse”. There was no other way to halt the protests that were denting sales.

To be fair to Apple, many Chinese factories have cleaned up their acts, although the practice of outsourcing to smaller “black factories”, when orders are too great to cope with, continues. These outfits come and go like flash floods — when opportunity arises. They go unmonitored and pay scant attention to workers’ rights.

The bigger problems occur where manufacturing capacity has moved out of China, in particular to low-wage Bangladesh. They are also to be found where primary resources are mined. Nowhere is more troubling than the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Prompted by a report from Amnesty International, the London Metal Exchange has launched an investigation into whether cobalt mined by child labourers is being traded on the exchange. Demand for cobalt has pushed prices up by 80 per cent this year and is only likely to increase as more electric cars take to the roads.

Congo, the epitome of a failed state, produces more than half the world’s supply. So, it is nigh on impossible to cut it out altogether. Besides, recent experience shows that often action designed in the developed world to ease western consumer consciences can have grave unintended consequences at source. This has been the case with efforts to halt the exploitation by Congolese militia of coltan, used in mobile phones. Hundreds of thousands of legitimate jobs in Congo have been lost as a result.

Constraining whole industries is not necessarily the answer. Besides, most companies have the wherewithal to do a better job of policing their own supply chains. To paraphrase Amnesty, they should not need to be named and shamed before they act.

The blood and sweat in phones and batteries - Financial Times

A solution would be to stop relying on these resources:
Mad Scramble for Lithium Stretches From Congo to Cornwall - Bloomberg
China Taking the Lead in the Lithium War - prnewswire
BMW throws fuel on cobalt price fire: 'we'll need 10x as much' | MINING.com

How about mining batteries:

How to Mine Cobalt Without Going to Congo

Anna Hirtenstein
December 1, 2017, 5:00 AM GMT

Recycling techniques can draw metal from lithium-ion batteries
New source could meet 10% of car industry’s metal needs

“Mining batteries is much more profitable than mining the ground,” said Larry Reaugh, the president of American Manganese, which is patenting a method to draw out all of the metals in rechargeable batteries. “Rather than mining ore that’s 2 percent cobalt, you’re mining a battery that has 100 percent cobalt in it.”

Innovators like him have made so much progress that the likes of Tesla Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp. could count on recycling for 10 percent of their battery material needs through 2025 if companies roll out large schemes, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That will ease pressure on lithium and cobalt, whose prices have more than doubled in the past year.

How to Mine Cobalt Without Going to Congo - Bloomberg

And what about 're-manufacturing'?
Companies are ditching perfectly good computers | Business Weekly | Technology News | Business news | Cambridge and the East of England

Which brings us to the circular economy:

Opinion: ‘We need sustainability leaders to champion circular economy in IT’

By Mark Jolly on Dec 13, 2017

Companies replace IT equipment every four to five years, a waste of critical raw materials with huge environmental and social costs, argues Cranfield University professor Mark Jolley. With refurbished computers now nearly as high-performing as new, there needs to be an end to the make-use-dispose culture

The average PC is a lavish and exotic piece of work: copper from Chile, gold from Mali, iron ore from Brazil, nickel from the Congo, bauxite from Peru. Many components depend on rare earth or platinum group metals highlighted as under threat in the EU’s Critical Raw Materials Review, the fragile supplies of which are described as Europe’s “Achilles heel”.

It’s not only an issue of using up limited resources. There are costs that are never reflected in the relatively low, market-driven prices offered to wealthy consumers. Mining operations damage land, use up huge amounts of energy and lead to pollution in soil and water systems. Reportedly, harsh working conditions are typical and include the use of child labour.

And yet, these costly treasures are thrown out, as part of the standard cycle of IT “estate” replacement by employers. The typical lifecycle of three to four years – when the cost of maintenance is believed to be greater than the cost of replacement – has recently shifted be closer to four to five years. But this still means there were 260 million new PC machines purchased last year (says an IDC report). Consumer demand for IT devices generally means intensifying competition for all these precious raw materials. By 2020 the consultancy Mercer predicts people will have three times as many IT gadgets as they did in 2014.

Opinion: ‘We need sustainability leaders to champion circular economy in IT’ | Ethical Corporation

Rather than planned obsolescence:
Futures Forum: Made to last? >>> getting companies to offer a 'lifetime product'
Futures Forum: Reduce, reuse, recycle >>> 'What's Wrong with the Three Rs of Environmentalism'
Futures Forum: Peak stuff >>> Are consumers getting tired of consuming?
Futures Forum: The promises of technological innovation >>> "Community Technology" and the World in 1979
Futures Forum: Transitioning from a Consumer Culture >>> to Sustainable Consumption >>>
Futures Forum: Design for life, not just for manufacture > Design Council
Futures Forum: Planned Obsolescence: and The Men Who Made Us Spend
Futures Forum: The antidote to Stuffocation: "Sharing, lending, bartering, swapping and gifting networks can all play a part and creating things can be done collaboratively."

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