WEF speaker condemns use of slave labour in electric car supply chain

Veronica Nilsson, a Trade Union official with the OECD, condemned using slave labour to mine precious metals for electric cars. She cited the example of Madagascar, where workers cannot afford to eat proper meals daily. 'When we talk about a just transition, and how to do the just transition, we must remember this,' claimed Nilsson.

WEF speaker condemns use of slave labour in electric car supply chain
AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam, File
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Veronica Nilsson, a Trade Union Official with the OECD, speaks to the horrid realities of the renewable energy sector at the World Economic Forum (WEF).

"We all agree that having electric cars is good for the environment, but when you use electric cars you use a lot of raw materials, metals which exist in countries where violations of human rights are very regular," she said.

B.C. Conservative MLA John Rustad tabled a motion last March to end electric vehicle (EV) subsidies, citing the slave labour used to mine the cobalt for their batteries.

Motion 22, a private member’s bill, urged the legislature to end all handouts to electric vehicles and bikes, calling it "unethical" but to no avail.

"There are thousands of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] who are working like slaves, digging with their bare hands to mine cobalt being used in our electric vehicles," said Rustad. 

"Doesn't a child's life in the Congo matter?" he posed. "Blood batteries are not the answer to our climate issues."

Nilsson condemned using slave labour to mine the precious metals used in electric cars. She cited the example of Madagascar where workers do not eat proper meals daily on their minuscule salaries. 

"These are not regular jobs; this is just what they do," said the trade union official.

Congo mines three-quarters of the world's cobalt, with almost all of it going to China, where 80% of its cobalt goes for refining. China then produces 75% of the world's lithium batteries.

"It's not right that we should try to improve our environment by destroying [the Congo]," said Rustad, who claimed last March that no clean cobalt supply chain exists in the Congo. 

"All cobalt sourced from the DRC is tainted by various abuse," he said, "including slavery, child labour, forced labour, debt bondage, human trafficking, hazardous and toxic working conditions, pathetic wages, injury and death, and incalculable environmental harm."

Last May 3, the Trudeau Liberals revamped legislation directly opposing modern-day slavery. Parliament initially outlawed the importation of slave labour goods in 2021. 

Toronto MP John McKay, a backer for Bill S-211, An Act to enact the Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act, says the onus is now on firms to guarantee their products are not made by children or people working for little to no pay.

Responding to criticism on the bill, he said "with some generation of the information we could move to more onerous pieces of legislation, where companies who don't comply expose themselves to lawsuits" as compared to simply reporting.

"When we talk about a 'just transition,' and how to do the just transition, we must remember this," claimed Nilsson.

"It looks very good on paper, but how do we [sustainably] produce these electric cars?" she posed.

Moreover, records submitted to the Commons special committee on Canada-China relations show the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Investment Board owns $4 million in shares in Longi Green Energy Technology Company Limited, the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. 

As reported by Blacklock’s Reporter last May 10, the Chinese firm allegedly used Uyghur Muslim slave labour.

U.K.’s Sheffield Hallam University named Longi Green in a 2021 research paper on the subject matter.

"We are exceedingly cautious," testified Michel Leduc, senior managing director with the Board, on the importance of human rights compliance when investing in companies.

"As a long-term investor, we actively engage and influence companies with human rights as a longstanding focus area," he told MPs. "If that fails, we will exit or avoid investing in the first place."

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