The Biden administration declared Oct. 6 that batteries from China may be tainted by child labor, a move that could upend the electric vehicle industry while giving fresh ammunition to critics of White House climate policies, reports E&E News.
The U.S. Department of Labor said it would add lithium-ion batteries to a list of goods made with materials known to be produced with child or forced labor under a 2006 human trafficking law. The decision was based on the fact that many batteries use cobalt, a mineral largely mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where children have been found to work at some mining sites.
The department released the list in the form of a report that excoriated “clean energy” supply chains for using forced labor. It grouped Chinese batteries together with polysilicon — a key material used in solar panel cells — made in the Chinese province of Xinjiang.
About half the world’s polysilicon comes from Xinjiang but is banned from the United States due to concerns that it is produced by Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim groups through forced labor. Solar ingots — the term used for blocks of processed polysilicon — as well as wafers, cells and modules were also added to the list of goods made with forced or child labor, since many of those goods are made using Xinjiang polysilicon.
“Clean energy is a central pillar of the Biden-Harris Administration’s policy goals. Yet, that clean energy future cannot — and will not — be built on the backs of forced laborers,” the Labor Department said in its report.
The Democratic Republic of Congo supplies more than 70 percent of the world’s mined cobalt, a metal used in batteries that provide power to anything from consumer laptops and cellphones to electric vehicles and energy storage facilities for power grids.
China, meanwhile, owns some of the largest cobalt mines in Congo and is the largest processor of the metal. There are no cobalt processing plants in the United States.
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