18 November, 2020There are numerous reports on projected ever-higher growth rates of battery demand and production volumes over the next decades. Most studies expect a growth of between 15 and 20 per cent until 2030, but growth will be big, regardless of the exact figure. This will have a deep impact on all industrial sectors along the battery supply chain organized by IndustriALL Global Union affiliates: mining, chemicals, energy, electronics, automotive, as well as others.
From Global Worker No. 2 November 2020
Text: Georg Leutert
Theme: The battery supply chain
Battery production will be one of the fastest growing industrial activities in the years to come. Already today, the fight for the main raw materials, cobalt, lithium, copper and nickel, leads to gross human and workers’ rights’ violations and unacceptable environmental consequences: child labour, destruction of the living environment of indigenous peoples, ecological destruction, water shortage etc.
Today, a few East-Asian companies from China, Japan and Korea dominate global battery manufacturing and most of the raw materials are processed in Chinese refineries. The refinery of the raw materials is largely dominated by Chinese companies, which means a severe lack of transparency and a major challenge.
If the world is to reduce CO2 emissions, batteries must extend to the wide range of products, such as electric vehicles and storage battery systems, that use smart grid and green/renewable energy.
As the battery supply chain is getting bigger, both in terms of actors and volume, and becoming more complex so will the demand for minerals to power the battery power technology. Therefore, it is strategically important that IndustriALL is involved in the due diligence process to secure workers’ rights and organize workers in the supply chain.
Once we have the input from all stages of the supply chain, we can then work together with all stakeholders and elaborate strategies that will concretely improve the situation on the ground.
BATTERY SUPPLY CHAIN
Mining for required raw materials, in particular cobalt, lithium, nickel and copper; will grow dramatically and lead to new jobs. But issues already existing around basic trade union rights, child labour, the environment, rights of indigenous peoples etc, will also increase.
Three main players in the chemical and electronics sector from China (CATL), Japan (Panasonic) and Korea (LG Chem) dominate the battery cell production, with new players trying to enter the market.
The automotive sector has gone through an intensive make or buy discussion. Most of the auto manufacturers are deciding to buy the battery cells and then to assemble the battery packs themselves.
The energy sector mainly looks at sound solutions for the storage of (green) energy to balance out fluctuations in demand and production. The efforts mainly focus on the installation of smart grids and, in this context, e.g. the integration and utilization of batteries from car owners.
“Decent working conditions and the realization of human and workers' rights along global supply chains are some of the most relevant and challenging topics for IndustriALL Global Union,”
says IndustriALL assistant general secretary Atle Høie.
“We want to use the momentum of the growing battery market by developing and implementing an integrated supply chain approach from the mines to the end-users.”
While major multinational companies (MNC) are well organized in their own production sites, trade union rights abuses grow rapidly down the supply chain. The responsibility MNCs have for their supply chains is well established through the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, but without enforceable international and national regulation MNCs will not be held accountable.
Mapping the global supply chains is important to find out where we as a global federation have leverage concerning trade union rights abuses in the supply chain of MNCs. The global Auto company will be forced to care about where its cobalt and lithium is mined, how its batteries are made and how the energy is stored.
IndustriALL has applied for an FES project to develop the supply chain strategy. This includes research and mapping of the supply chain, strategic meetings with experts and global meetings with the unions organizing along the supply chain.
“The aim is to create a social dialogue scheme or platform with key stakeholders to achieve decent work for all throughout the supply chain. IndustriALL is the only global union who can coordinate unions around the world and contribute to the policy to achieve decent work around the battery supply chain. The international trade union movement becomes more important than ever,”
says Atle Høie.
What IndustriALL wants:
- Genuine due diligence that makes the voice of workers heard at every single step of the supply chain (and goes beyond glossy sustainability reports)
- To improve working conditions of the workers on the ground
- To work together across sectors
Regulating unsustainable global supply chains and securing manufacturing jobs are key to IndustriALL’s strategic work in the wake of the pandemic.
Manufacturing must continue to be the engine of national economies. This IndustriALL initiative will address the global model of trade and production since the crisis has exposed the enormous risks to labour rights in unregulated global supply chains. We will demand that human and labour rights’ compulsory due diligence is regulated at international and national levels through binding legislation.