Buying an electric vehicle may seem like the ethical choice but a campaign group has warned that Glencore’s investment in the sector could muddy the waters.
The concerns revolve around multiple corruption investigations into Glencore’s mining operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to the world’s largest reserves of cobalt, a crucial metal in electric battery manufacture.
Glencore owns the huge Mutanda mine in DRC, where cobalt is extracted as a byproduct of what was the mine’s main attraction, copper.
Operations were suspended in 2019 but, partly thanks to surging demand for cobalt, Glencore plans to restart in 2022.
Coupled with its investment in Britishvolt, the restart at Mutanda means Glencore will have lucrative investments at both ends of the cobalt supply chain feeding the electric car revolution.
But Glencore’s business dealings in the DRC remain under the shadow of a corruption prosecution in its home country of Switzerland and separate bribery investigations by the US Department of Justice and UK Serious Fraud Office.
The probes relate, in part, to a controversial relationship with Israeli entrepreneur Dan Gertler, Glencore’s former partner in assets including Mutanda, who still collects royalties from the company.
Gertler was sanctioned by the US in 2017 over allegations that he used his friendship with the DRC’s former president Joseph Kabila to secure mining deals.
He denied all allegations of impropriety at the time. The sanctions were dropped by Donald Trump before being reimposed again earlier this year by the Biden administration.
Cobalt supply chain expert Elisabeth Claesens, director of non-profit group Resource Matters said: “Britishvolt CEO’s claim that Glencore’s cobalt is ‘ethical’ shows that their due diligence process is likely either too narrow or too shallow.
“Glencore transfers more than 2% of its Congo cobalt proceeds to Dan Gertler’s network, which is under sanction for corruption.
“Glencore’s mining deals are under investigation in at least three western jurisdictions for potential financial misconduct.
“Car makers should ask Britishvolt how its supplier – and now shareholder – mitigates this corruption risk.”
A Glencore spokesperson said it couldn’t comment on the investigations.
“Glencore is committed to operating ethically and responsibly in all aspects of its business,” they said.