Responsible Lithium Partnership

Partnership for sustainable lithium mining in Chile.

In 2021, several leading companies, including Mercedes-Benz, initiated a "Responsible Lithium Partnership" to promote the responsible use of natural resources, such as lithium, in Chile's Salar de Atacama. This partnership aims to encourage a dialogue between local stakeholders based on scientific facts, review them and seek solutions through a participatory process.

The rise of e-mobility and digitalization will lead to an increasing demand for lithium in battery production in the coming years. The world's largest lithium reserves and an important part of current production are located in the Salar de Atacama.

Auditing the supply chains of raw materials that may be mined or processed under conditions that are critical to human rights is a high priority for Mercedes-Benz. Under the umbrella of the Human Rights Respect System, we analyze 24 critical raw materials for human rights risks, create transparency in our supply chains and take measures to reduce risks - including lithium. In this context, Mercedes-Benz took the first step of making existing supply chains of lithium in its battery cells as transparent as possible. In the process, it was determined that some of the lithium in the supply chain comes from Chile.

The region in the Salar de Atacama is a fragile ecosystem. There is also a lack of local social consensus on the impacts of lithium mining and other economic activities. Potential risks from brine and water use could threaten the ecosystem and livelihoods. To effectively mitigate these potential impacts, collaboration among various partners is needed.

Coordination by GIZ

In 2021, the Responsible Lithium Partnership launched, funded by BASF SE, BMW Group, Daimler Truck AG, Fairphone, Mercedes-Benz Group, and Volkswagen Group. The "Responsible Lithium Partnership" is a project to promote sustainable use of resources in the Salar de Atacama. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH was assigned to coordinate the partnership in order to find common ground and create a multi-stakeholder platform (Mesa Multiactor). Currently, 22 stakeholders consisting of indigenous communities, local civil society, academia, the local private sector and government, as well as local mining companies are members and active participants of the Mesa Multiactor.

The representatives of the different stakeholders come together in a joint dialogue to reach agreements on the issues they raise related to the care of the Salar de Atacama Basin ecosystem. The Mesa Multiactor has a strategic working group that guides the process and a technical working group focused on water that contributes knowledge and technical assessments to reduce scientific uncertainties.

The goal of the multi-stakeholder platform is to establish a common understanding of the status quo while developing a shared vision for the future of the Salar de Atacama watershed. In addition, an action plan to improve long-term natural resource management will be developed with each other and implemented in initial steps. The Responsible Lithium Partnership does not promote lithium procurement or the purchase or sale of mineral resources.

Implementation aspects

Additional to agreeing on the initiative's goals and work plan, the strategic working group has already begun to reach consensus on specific implementation aspects. To date, participants have agreed on the following issues, among others:

  • The creation of a cadastre of holders of water rights on the rivers of the basin.
  • The mapping of the geological and hydrological course of the river
  • The reconstruction of the water measuring stations
  • The creation of a publicly accessible educational program on water-related topics for the inhabitants of the Salar de Atacama basin, in collaboration with the water management authority
  • An investigation of new irrigation technologies for the sustainable cultivation of alfalfa and corn by indigenous communities in the area
  • The monitoring of the Vilama and San Pedro rivers.
  • An awareness campaign for the local population, highlighting the importance of water conservation in the region, which has already had a considerable impact through various communication channels
  • A compilation of existing public data and studies on the Salar de Atacama to facilitate access to existing knowledge

The above points have not yet all been conclusively implemented.

More about the Responsible Lithium Partnership

The financing companies BASF SE, BMW Group, Daimler Truck AG, Fairphone, Mercedes-Benz Group AG and Volkswagen Group are aware of their responsibilities along the entire supply chain, including their human rights due diligence in raw material sourcing and production. They have therefore launched the Responsible Lithium Partnership to promote sustainable development, reduce potential negative impacts and strengthen the protection of human rights.

Mercedes-Benz's commitment to funding and initiating the "Responsible Lithium Partnership" is also based on our maxim of "enablement before disengagement." This approach does not generally exclude critical countries of origin such as Chile as a source of supply, but instead aims to improve the situation on the ground for the people and strengthen their rights.

The Responsible Lithium Partnership demonstrates that in today's highly interconnected value chains, responsible business practices are based not only on collaboration with business partners, but also on constructive engagement with governments and civil society. The partnership therefore pays attention to a holistic approach and strives to connect local stakeholders in a common vision for the Salar de Atacama.

The financing and initiation of the "Responsible Lithium Partnership" was preceded by a study commissioned by Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen. For both companies, it was important to better understand lithium mining in Chile in order to effectively and specifically address potential problems. The study was conducted in January 2020 by various experts on site in Chile and in the Salar de Atacama. On the basis of the results, Mercedes-Benz and other leading companies have decided to initiate the "Responsible Lithium Partnership".

This article was last updated in September 2023.