Skip to main content


The grim choice between climate and human rights

Lithium production in Chile: dominated by China. Oliver Llaneza Hesse/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty

Western governments are stuck with a grim choice, says William Schneider in The Wall Street Journal: “climate change or human rights”. As the US, UK and other global do-gooders ramp up “solar energy, batteries and electric vehicles”, they are exposing themselves more and more to “forced and child labour”. Take lithium batteries, currently the only technology on the market that will make rapid uptake of electric cars possible. Chinese firms have bought up mining facilities around the world to produce not just lithium but also cobalt, a crucial ingredient in battery anodes. Some 60% of the world’s cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, “notorious for the use of child labour”.

China also dominates the solar-power industry, using state subsidies, coal-fired electrical plants and forced labour to massively drive down the cost of solar panels. This in turn makes Western climate goals look more affordable, spurring green-minded leaders to push for more aggressive renewable targets. But the irony is that solar power and electric vehicles have become popular largely because China can produce them so cheaply – which it does via unsavoury means. When the penny drops, Western leaders will need to adapt their climate-change goals to “face moral reality”.