Image default

Raw materials against human rights violations?

German car manufacturers are losing out on e-mobility. ARD-Research shows that several corporations apparently accept human rights violations in the search for important raw materials.

Tim Diekmann

For its new top model, the Bavarian car manufacturer BMW promises its customers “next generation driving pleasure”. The all-electric luxury sedan i7 can travel up to 624 kilometers electrically, BMW advertises on its homepage. It seems that wealthy customers do not have to make compromises when buying their next luxury sedan.

Overall, BMW is in third place nationwide in terms of the share of new electric car registrations with 40,420 vehicles in 2023. Tesla follows in second place (63,685) and at the top is the German volume manufacturer Volkswagen (70,628). BMW – like other car manufacturers – is investing billions in converting its vehicle fleet.

But the switch from combustion engines to electric cars leads to enormous problems in the supply of valuable raw materials that are needed for battery production. This involves the components cobalt, nickel, manganese, graphite and lithium. China is one of the largest producers of the light metal lithium with 33,000 tons per year.

BMW apparently sources lithium from China

But where exactly individual raw materials such as lithium for the production of batteries come from is a well-kept secret in the industry. BMW promises to pay particular attention to human rights. But while filming in China, which is regularly criticized for human rights violations, she finds out ARD Incidentally, a manager of a huge lithium refinery said that a German car manufacturer is also their customer. “These are two customers of BMW. They carry out quality controls here,” says Gloria Xu from Jianxi Albemarle Lithium.

During a tour with a German official, it was noticed that a coal-fired power plant was being used for electricity-intensive lithium production. BMW announces that the company requires all of its battery cell manufacturers to use 100 percent green electricity.

China as the center of international Commodity trading

China's market power is enormous, emphasizes Peter Buchholz from the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources: “As soon as something happens in China, it immediately has an impact on the global raw materials markets. These are all signs that do not point to free and fair trade, but to increasing conflicts in the raw materials trade.”

The expert's solution: more suppliers to make yourself more independent. In practice, this seems to be difficult, as shown by dealing with the authoritarian state of Azerbaijan.

The federal government's position on raw materials trading with authoritarian states is clear, emphasizes State Secretary in the Foreign Office and former Greenpeace boss Jennifer Morgan: “That is the federal government's position, that we have criteria for environmental protection, for social protection, for human rights. That is “very important. We don't want to make the mistake of the past, where there was a lot of oil, gas and other extraction and the local communities didn't benefit from it. They suffered,” says Morgan.

On a cozy course with authoritarian Azerbaijan

Authoritarian Azerbaijan gained wealth and international reputation through oil and gas. Now they want to further expand their natural resources business. International interest is great. “We find here what we need for the future,” says Tobias Baumann, who represents German companies in Azerbaijan.

After the attack on Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijani troops, the desire for valuable raw materials is growing. “Many of the deposits are in previously occupied areas that are now being developed,” says Baumann. When asked about the human rights situation in the country, the representative of the Chamber of Foreign Trade said about the Azerbaijani president: “Aliyev, he doesn't go around poisoning any opposition members in England or Germany or having them shot or murdered in the street.”

It is known that Azerbaijan arrests and deports opposition members on the street. Free reporting is impossible in this country. There is no freedom of expression.

Christoph Bals from the non-governmental organization Germanwatch warns against simply doing business with Azerbaijan uncritically: “The human rights situation has always been very problematic in the last few decades. This is an authoritarian country. It really has nothing to do with democracy,” he says. “And the human rights organizations that wanted to look at it on site were often not allowed to come and look at it at all,” adds Bals. One ARD-An inquiry to the Federal Foreign Office about critics' accusation that Germany is turning a blind eye to human rights violations remains unanswered.

Human rights and environmental problems at Mercedes known

The Stuttgart car manufacturer Mercedes also depends on functioning supply chains for critical raw materials. A 2021 document that the ARD exists, lists fundamental problems in the supply chains and mining of the respective countries of origin. For example, it says that there is a lack of “access to basic services (e.g. water) for the local population as a result of mining operations” and that there is an “impairment of local livelihoods due to mining operations (e.g. access to fields for farmers)”.

In addition, many companies “did not have appropriate systems in place to prevent human rights problems.” Mercedes-Benz states that it will not tolerate any violations of its business standards.

The four-part documentary series “#OurEarth: Fight for Raw Materials” is available in the ARD media library.

Related posts

Leave a Comment

* By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website.