Surging commodity prices are creating headaches in the tech and automotive sectors, with the cost of key materials such as lithium, cobalt and nickel (key components in electric car batteries) rising following supply chain disruptions associated with Covid and the war in Ukraine.
This has led to a scramble by carmakers to secure materials, with the Financial Times recently reporting that some in the sector expect supply chain challenges to last until 2030. To address this, some businesses are seeking innovative solutions to their supply chain woes, with Tesla's Elon Musk announcing in April that the electric carmaker was exploring mining its own lithium in order to secure supply, having purchased the rights to a 10,000 acre lithium deposit in the United States in 2020.
The prospect of a vertically integrated electric carmaker may grab headlines, but it also has wide ranging implications from an ESG-risk perspective that may be overlooked in a rush to secure supply. In particular, as those with experience in the mining sector will know, infrastructure projects in developing countries often have acute human rights risks associated with them. Businesses looking to branch out into the mining sector may also find that there is tension between the expectations around mining sector specific ESG disclosures, and the ESG disclosure expectations of their other product lines. These disclosures may raise unforeseen litigation risk, not to mention reputational risk.
In this article we (i) provide an overview of the key human rights risks faced in the mining sector, (ii) consider recent legal and regulatory changes that may contribute to heightened legal risk to those who own and operate mines, and (iii) note the particular challenges that the tech and automotive sectors will face if they start to become more involved in the mining sector.