There’s mounting pressure on automakers and battery makers to make sure they don’t contribute to human right violations by using “conflict minerals”. These include cobalt mined in artisanal mines, which often have terrible working conditions and even sometimes employ children, in Congo.
Tesla issued its latest ‘Conflict Minerals Report’ to disclose its effort for “responsible sourcing” which includes reducing the use of cobalt.
Earlier this month, Tesla released rare details about the Model 3’s battery cells – claiming the highest energy density and the use of less cobalt.
Tesla and its battery manufacturing partner Panasonic both say that they plan to further reduce the use of cobalt in their batteries.
They wrote in the ‘Conflict Minerals Report’:
It is important to note that there is very little cobalt in Tesla’s battery cells. On a relative basis, cobalt simply is not that significant to the composition of Tesla’s battery cells, as we mainly use NCA batteries, which contain substantially less cobalt than NMC batteries. Cells used in Model 3 production are the highest energy density cells used in any electric vehicle. We have achieved this by significantly reducing cobalt content per battery pack while increasing nickel content and still maintaining superior thermal stability. The cobalt content of our Nickel-Cobalt-Aluminum cathode chemistry is already lower than next-generation cathodes that will be made by other cell producers with a Nickel-Manganese-Cobalt ratio of 8:1:1.
But for now, they are still using a few kilograms of cobalt in their vehicles.
They say that they “have not uncovered human rights abuses in their supply chains” and they explained how they are surveying their supply chain:
We have visited many cobalt mines and processing plants that support Tesla’s main supply chain, as well as potential future suppliers throughout the world. We discuss with these suppliers the major risks they face and the practices they have implemented to mitigate these risks, including chain of custody controls and iterative checks performed from mining until customer delivery to combat illegal or artisanal ore use; on-site security and access control; hiring practices and management engagement to protect against child labor onsite; internal and third party audit practices; and engagement with local communities to maintain a positive social license to operate.
The report also focuses on columbite-tantalite (tantalum), cassiterite (tin), gold, and wolframite (tungsten).
They explained their “responsible sourcing” strategy:
Tesla is committed to only sourcing responsibly produced materials. In addition to the Tesla Supplier Code of Conduct, Tesla has a Human Rights and Conflict Minerals policy that outlines our expectations to all suppliers and partners that work with us. We strictly follow all U.S. and foreign law, and require our supply chain to do the same. All of our contracts require suppliers to adhere to our human rights policy and environmental and safety requirements. Tesla is committed to making working conditions in Tesla’s supply chain safe and humane, ensuring that workers are treated with respect and dignity, and that manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible. Tesla suppliers are required to provide evidence of the existence of policies that address these social, environmental, and sustainability issues as well as responsible sourcing.
Tesla has identified 389 suppliers who use those minerals and they, in turn, reported 996 unique smelters.
The number of suppliers has significantly increased due to the Model 3 program, but Tesla says that the number of smelters has nonetheless been reduced, which the automaker explains by “an increased awareness by the suppliers of RMI’s smelter database,” which assessed refiners and smelters.