BMW is the first carmaker to join responsible mining initiative

Worker inside a mine in Cerro de Pasco, Peru.
Worker inside a mine in Cerro de Pasco, Peru.

Earlier this month, BMW became the first automaker to join the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), in a sign of the mounting pressure on the car industry to ensure electric vehicle production does not come at the cost of people or the planet. 

Materials such as cobalt and lithium are essential for producing electric cars, but often are produced in dangerous or illegal mines in conflict-riven countries.

As manufacturers pivot their business models to focus on electric vehicles, boosting transparency and improving the ethics of these supply chains is fast becoming a top priority. 

IRMA is a certification program for industrial-scale mine sites working to help firms throughout the mining supply chain, from jeweler to electronics companies and energy firms and others, ensure the minerals they purchase are mined responsibly.

BMW said the move to join the organization — which also boasts the likes of Tiffany & Co, Anglo American and Microsoft as members — would help it ensure environmental and social standards are met throughout its supply chain. 

"Raw materials form the basis for every industrial production process and our need will continue to grow accordingly," said Andreas Wendt, the BMW board member responsible for Purchasing and Supplier Network. "We believe that IRMA, with its ambitious certification standard, will contribute to enhancing responsibility in global value chains and improving environmental and social performance."

IRMA measures the performance of mines against its Standard for Responsible Mining. Mines are judged on how well they protect human rights, adhere to health and safety guidelines, limit pollution and conduct financial affairs transparently. 

"The auto sector is a powerful purchaser of materials that come from mines," said Aimee Boulanger, executive director of IRMA. "We are happy to have the BMW Group join IRMA and we look forward to supporting their commitment to increasing environmental and social responsibility in their supply chains."

Carmakers are also turning to technology to help clean up their EV supply chains. In April VW joined an IBM-led industry grouping exploring the potential for blockchain to improve the traceability of cobalt supply chains.

Others are pursuing a more "hands-on" approach. Swedish battery maker Northvolt said in November it would source its cobalt directly from mines in order to ensure it can accurately trace its origins. 

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