November 12, 2020 - The electrification of its vehicle fleet is a key component of Mercedes-Benz's "Ambition2039" and a prerequisite on the way to carbon neutrality. Responsibly mined and processed raw materials provide the foundation for a genuinely sustainable electric vehicle fleet. The Mercedes-Benz Procurement is now setting new standards, with an approach that encompasses both cobalt and lithium.
The heart of a battery is the battery cell. Its production involves a wide range of materials – including cobalt and lithium. Both are at times strongly criticized in terms of human rights as well as environmental aspects.
Our aim is to further reduce the use of critical raw materials. In the coming generations of battery cells, for example, the cobalt content is already being reduced to less than ten percent. The long-term objective is even to be able to dispense with materials such as cobalt entirely through post-lithium-ion technologies with new material compositions.
Procurement of battery cells with cobalt and lithium from certified sources
Part of a comprehensive approach being taken by Mercedes-Benz for its overall battery strategy is a decision by the Mercedes-Benz Procurement promoting the socially acceptable and environmentally sound extraction of cobalt and lithium.
The company will in future only source battery cells with cobalt and lithium from certified mining sites. To achieve this, the Mercedes-Benz Procurement will in future only work with suppliers who purchase raw materials from certified sources in accordance with the recognized mining standard of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) and who comply with their due diligence obligations along the supply chain in accordance with OECD guidelines. The most important criteria of this standard include both human rights aspects and the environmentally friendly mining of raw materials. The standard also takes into consideration further social and societal aspects that are related to the consequences of industrial mining. The supply chains will in the future also be regularly monitored.
Mercedes-Benz deliberately has decided not to generally exclude countries of origin viewed as high-risk - such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo - as sources of supply. Instead, the holistic approach aims to improve the local situation for the people working there and to strengthen their rights. This is the only way to achieve long-term social changes.
By doing so, the company is also following the recommendation of non-governmental organizations, governments and other relevant interest groups not to withdraw from high-risk countries in general. The principle of “using leverage before withdrawing” is a maxim of action that can be found in different forms in various frameworks for respecting and upholding human rights, on which Mercedes-Benz is oriented, for example in the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights of the German federal government.
Consequent selection process in the cobalt supply chain
Already in 2018, Mercedes-Benz commissioned the auditing and advisory firm RCS Global to establish transparency over the complex cobalt supply chains behind battery cells and to audit these at every stage in accordance with OECD Due Diligence. More than 120 suppliers were identified as part of this process, and 60 audits were conducted after a corresponding risk assessment. The audit process is now being extended for a limited number of mines to include the IRMA mining standard.
As things stand at present, there are currently no cobalt mines certified in accordance with IRMA’s Standard for Responsible Mining. Mercedes-Benz is therefore working with IRMA and RCS Global on a step-by-step approach that will be taken with a limited number of cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, auditing them against a series of specific sets of requirements. In the medium term, this approach aims on the one hand to formulate realistic expectations of the mining suppliers, while pressing for increasingly responsible practices in order to meet Mercedes-Benz's requirements for sustainable supply chains. The long-term objective is a clear commitment to a process of continuous improvement. Included in this are transitional periods for the achievement of different levels of performance for an IRMA certification.
With the strategic decision to work in future only with suppliers who agree to comply with the requirements of IRMA, Mercedes-Benz pursues the goal of ensuring respecting and upholding of human rights as well as the protection of the environment already during the extraction of raw materials.
The new standards for the responsible procurement of raw materials apply only in the first step for cobalt and lithium. In the next step, it is planned to extend the procedure to other raw materials, initially to other battery raw materials.