Businesses, international organizations and NGOs have joined forces to end child labour, hazardous working conditions, pollution and the environmental damage behind the booming trade in batteries for smartphones, gadgets, electric vehicles and renewable energy storage systems in households and cities.

Launched today at the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2017, the Global Battery Alliance aims to create a responsible value chain for the fast-growing battery market powering the technology and clean energy revolution. It aims to transform the entire value chain, from the mining and chemical industries to manufacturers, electronics, automotive and energy businesses.

Analysts expect a 12-fold increase in battery capacity is needed to meet consumer demands and the promise of a low-carbon economy. The market is likely to reach $100 billion by 2025 and batteries installed in homes and businesses will account for 57% of the world’s energy storage capacity by 2040.

But there are enormous human and environmental costs: an Amnesty International report highlighted the prevalent use of child labour in mining of cobalt. Materials such as lithium, nickel, manganese and graphite have been linked to pollution, water shortages and other environmental and social concerns.

Meanwhile, a recycling challenge looms over the huge quantities of spent lithium-ion batteries forecast to be discarded, with little infrastructure in place to enable a circular economy for batteries.

Dominic Waughray, Head of Public-Private Partnerships at the World Economic Forum, said that the human toll is dire; and both valuable raw materials and a billion-dollar business opportunity are going to waste.

“The phones may be smart, but the system is certainly not sustainable. All the electronic waste we discarded in 2014 was worth $52 billion. It contained 300 tonnes of gold and significant amounts of silver and palladium. To get these rare minerals and metals so that all our phone, car and toothbrush batteries work smartly, many poor people are paying a terrible cost, as is the environment. We keep a smartphone or tablet on average for just 26 months and then we throw it away, battery and all.”

“The Global Battery Alliance seeks to fix this, with companies, NGOs and international organizations coming together to clean up supply chains and re-use battery waste. The World Economic Forum, as the international organization for public-private cooperation, is pleased to lend its platforms and networks to help advance this important project.”

Businesses and organizations supporting the alliance are: BASF, Enel, the Eurasian Resources Group, Johnson Controls, NEC Corporation, Royal DSM, Trafigura Group, Umicore, Veolia, Volkswagen, White & Case, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the African Development Bank, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals Minerals & Chemicals Importers and Exporters (CCCMC) and civil society organizations International Justice Mission, Pact and the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

"We want to ensure that everyone benefits from the growing demand for alternative energy. It is vital that future energy supplies include ethically sourced storage solutions," said Benedikt Sobotka, Chief Executive Officer, Eurasian Resources Group, a major natural resources producer with cobalt mining operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Unfortunately, there is almost a 100% chance that your smartphone or electric vehicle contains cobalt that comes from child workers in artisanal mines. Although creating new ethical energy sources will help, we all need to do whatever we can to put an end to child labour. The Alliance has a critical role to play in achieving this objective.”

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