Researchers reveal EV industry can still be linked to child labor-fueled mines

FIRST ON FOX: Minerals produced from artisanal African mines that may employ child labor continue to be used in base components of batteries, including those potentially used in electric vehicles (EVs), according to a new report shared with Fox News Digital.

The American Energy Institute (AEI), the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Heartland Institute, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, the International Climate Science Coalition, and Truth in Energy and Climate jointly assembled the report, which draws from existing studies and establishes that child labor likely continues to fuel EV production worldwide.

The research argues that rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which are by far the most prevalent type of battery installed in EVs, are particularly dependent on cobalt. The world’s largest established cobalt reserves and production, however, exist in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), an African nation with a checkered human rights record. 

“There is no such thing as a clean supply chain of cobalt from the Congo. All is tainted by various degrees of abuse, including slavery, child labor, forced labor, debt bondage, human trafficking, hazardous and toxic working conditions, low wages, injury and death, and incalculable environmental harm,” the report states. 

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“Even monitoring the situation is impossible as conditions are adversarial at every turn, including aggressive security forces, intense surveillance, the remoteness of many mining areas, distrust of outsiders and the sheer scale of hundreds of thousands of people engaged in the feverish excavation of cobalt in medieval conditions,” the report adds.

Overall, in 2022, the DRC produced nearly 70% of the world’s cobalt and is home to nearly half of known global reserves of the mineral, according to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data. Separate data analyzed by the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicates that greater than 70% of cobalt production is sourced from the DRC.

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And while it remains unclear exactly how many of the mines are artisanal and employ child laborers, the report Tuesday highlights Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development data showing the majority of cobalt production in the DRC is connected with child labor. A USGS National Minerals Information Center study published in June established that up to 11% of cobalt produced in the nation is tied to child labor.

The Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs concluded that more than 40,000 children, including children as young as 6 years old, work in cobalt mines in the DRC.

“I think the climate agenda is really an anti-human agenda in and of itself,” AEI CEO Jason Isaac, who co-authored the report, told Fox News Digital in an interview. “This just continues to be the proved with the policies they’re adopting and forcing us down this road of this so-called energy transition.”

“The climate cult, this climate alarmist movement, just completely turns a blind eye towards the humanitarian crisis that they are creating,” Isaac continued.

Isaac’s research comes amid an aggressive push from both the Biden administration and governments across the world for individuals to quickly transition from gas-powered vehicles to EVs in an effort to reduce carbon emissions and stave off global warming. 

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President Biden set a goal of ensuring 50% of new car purchases are electric by 2030 shortly after taking office. Since then, led by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), his administration has pursued a federal regulatory regime that, while not mandating EVs, would strongly incentivize Americans to purchase an EV when shopping for a new car.

For example, in April, the EPA proposed the most aggressive federal tailpipe emissions rules on light- and medium-duty emissions ever crafted. If finalized and implemented, 67% of new sedan, crossover, SUV and light truck purchases, up to 50% of bus and garbage truck purchases, 35% of short-haul freight tractor purchases, and 25% of long-haul freight tractor purchases could be electric by 2032, the White House projected.

Months later, in July, the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued its most aggressive fuel economy standards ever, an action critics say would increase consumer costs.

And last year, the EPA also reinstated California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to implement its own emission standards and electric vehicle sales mandates, allowing other states to also adopt California’s rules. The state then approved regulations that mandated all car purchases in the state — which leads the country in annual car sales — be electric by 2035.

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“The unfortunate truth is that child slaves are pulling these minerals by hand, including in Chinese Communist Party-run mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., told Fox News Digital in a statement. “I have been shining a light on this issue for years, yet the Biden Administration and my Democrat colleagues in Congress continue to turn a blind eye to these human rights abuses.”

“It is very clear to me that this Administration and the Congressional Democrats demanding EV mandates prefer to rely on poor children under modern-day slavery over Minnesota’s miners who are ready to safely develop these same resources under the strongest environmental and labor standards in the world,” Stauber added. “Ending child labor across the globe should be an easy cause to get behind, and we can start by ending President Biden’s ‘anywhere but America, any worker but American’ mining agenda.”

Stauber, who chairs the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, has loudly criticized the Biden administration over the past several years over its rejection of a domestic mine project in his district that would have produced cobalt. 

In 2022, citing environmental concerns, the Interior Department canceled leases held by the mining firm Twin Metals Minnesota, which were located in the Superior National Forest located outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a federally protected area. The agency then issued a 20-year ban on mining across 225,504 acres of the area, which contains about 88% of U.S. cobalt reserves in addition to vast copper, nickel and platinum-group elements.

According to Steve Milloy, a senior legal fellow at the Energy & Environment Legal Institute and another co-author of the report on Tuesday, the continued reliance on the DRC for cobalt not only ensures child labor is tied to the EV industry, it also means the EV supply chain will continue to be dominated by Chinese developers.

Chinese companies often own cobalt mines in the DRC that export raw materials to China to be processed. The vast majority of worldwide cobalt is processed in Chinese facilities, according to the IEA.

“It’s all shipped to China. Not only is China processing that cobalt, China also processes other cobalt. China is responsible for about 85% of cobalt processing,” Milloy told Fox News Digital in an interview. “Wherever the cobalt is sourced, the vast majority of it goes to China to get processed. So, even if you get your cobalt someplace else, China is in the way.”

“And in the Congo, China is actually managing the mines and a lot of it does come from industrial-scale mines,” he said. “But then you do have child labor, which is adding to the total cobalt that the Chinese are producing. And, of course, the Chinese don’t care what the working conditions are with these kids.”

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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