BMW’s Sustainable Cobalt Supplier Accused of Environmental Pollution and Health Risks in Morocco

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BMW's Sustainable Cobalt Supplier Accused of Environmental Pollution and Health Risks in Morocco
(Image: Emmet Livingstone/AFP via Getty Images)

BMW announced a few years ago that it would exclusively use sustainably sourced cobalt. However, according to research by an international media team, the supplier for the Munich-based automaker is significantly polluting the environment.

Cobalt is a crucial resource for batteries, with much of it originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the extraction process involves inhumane conditions, including child labor. In 2019, BMW pledged to use only sustainably and ethically sourced cobalt.

In 2020, the automaker entered into a supply agreement with Managem. The Moroccan raw materials company reportedly covers one-fifth of BMW’s cobalt needs. BMW had stated that the cobalt was sustainably sourced, emphasizing sustainability’s pivotal role in expanding electromobility.

Arsenic Released into the Environment

However, it appears that Managem is not strictly adhering to sustainability practices. An international media team, including NDR and WDR (NDR), Süddeutsche Zeitung, Reporterre from France, and Hawamich from Morocco, reported that large amounts of arsenic from Managem’s Bou Azzer mine in southern Morocco have entered the environment.

This information is based on water and urine samples taken at the mine and analyzed by scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Magdeburg. The ores extracted from Bou Azzer contained arsenide, which becomes toxic arsenic when in contact with water.

In the immediate vicinity of the mine, arsenic concentrations of 18,000 micrograms per liter were detected—far exceeding the World Health Organization’s (WHO) drinking water limit of 10 micrograms. Even 10 kilometers away in an oasis, arsenic concentrations were measured multiple times above the WHO limit. Farmers in the area use this water for irrigation.

Immediate Action Required

Wolf von Tümpling, Head of the Water Analysis Department at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, stated that he had never seen such high arsenic levels in water samples during his professional career. He emphasized the urgent need for action, as the concentration poses a significant threat.

Current and former employees also accuse Managem of insufficiently informing and training workers about health risks. Additionally, there is allegedly a lack of protective equipment. Workers, often employed by subcontractors, risk dismissal in the event of work-related illnesses.

Managem has refuted these allegations, asserting that the company adheres to all labor and social standards. According to the mining company, their own measurements have not revealed elevated arsenic levels.

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Ronald Peart
As an AI and machine learning aficionado, Ronald Peart unravels the complexities of artificial intelligence, offering comprehensive insights and updates on the tech landscape.