Responsible Lithium Partnership

Collaboration to promote responsible handling of lithium 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 affect 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 Mercedes-Benz Group, BASF SE, BMW Group, Daimler Truck AG, Fairphone 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). The Responsible Lithium Partnership does not promote lithium procurement or the purchase or sale of mineral resources.

For the first time in the Salar de Atacama, around 20 organizations (among them representatives of indigenous communities, civil society, academia and the public and private sectors) are collaborating.

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.

With the Joint Action Plan, participants of the Multi-Stakeholder Roundtable (Mesa Multiactor) have agreed on a framework for natural resource management in the Salar de Atacama basin in Chile in 2024. The Action Plan was one of the crucial goals of the project.

The ecosystem of Salar de Atacama is fragile and there is lack of scientific knowledge on the impacts of lithium mining and other economic activity. Potential risks derived from water and brine table shifts could affect ecosystems and local livelihoods. Water availability emerged as the dominant topic in the Mesa Multiactor, thus taking a central role in the project. The protection of valuable habitat and the Salar’s unique biodiversity are further key concerns.

The local participants have agreed on 30 measures in the Action Plan, including the creation of a cadastre of water rights holders on the river basin, geological and hydrological mapping, campaigns on the challenges of water scarcity, provision of drinking water to local communities, and recycling of grey water. Several of the actions are already completed, others are underway or prioritized for the future.

Furthermore, the Mesa Multiactor has addressed scientific uncertainties surrounding water in the Salar by screening and making available more than 300 studies and reports through a public and accessible library.

The participants have extended the project until February 2025, at the same time aiming to institutionalize the roundtable to ensure their work continues beyond that time.

This article was last updated in April 2024.