Chinese battery maker for the stars of the EV world suddenly wants to be seen powering human rights

As allegations of forced labour circulate, CATL goes for a jolt of social responsibility

Chinese battery company Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL), which makes around a third of the world's EV batteries and supplies the likes of Tesla and BMW, announced on Tuesday it had joined the United Nations Global Compact, an initiative that sees CEOs make non-binding commitments for sustainability and social responsibility, including human and labor rights.

Although it rolled out the announcement on Chinese social media on Monday and on Twitter on Tuesday, the company's participation commenced from June 28, 2023 and will continue until 30 June 2024.

A Letter of Commitment on CATL letterhead stated the company supports and is willing to implement the org’s 10 principles on human rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption as part of business strategy, culture and daily operations.

"We support public accountability and transparency and are therefore committed to reporting progress against the Global Compact Communication of Progress (CCP) Policy within one year of joining and annually thereafter," said CATL chairman Zeng Yuqun in the letter.

On Weixin, the company positioned itself as a leader in the new energy industry and a leader in sustainability.

It's hard not to welcome a company signing up for this sort of thing.

But CATL is doubtless aware that a substantial portion of the raw materials used in the global auto supply chain are sourced from Xinjiang, an region in which China is credibly accused of abusing the human rights of the Muslim minority Uyghur population, with human rights orgs accusing the Middle Kingdom of practicing forced labor and other discriminatory actions.

In 2022, New York Times investigation found the electric vehicle battery supply chain particularly egregious.

Such batteries are CATL's staple. The company is currently the biggest lithium battery manufacturer in the world and reportedly claims 37 percent of global EV battery market.

CATL-backed lithium miner Zhite New Materials paid $885 million for rights to a mine in the Xijiang province this year – a purchase it later abandoned.

The battery-maker has drawn some attention from US lawmakers who wish to shift the battery industry stateside and generally frown upon businesses that operate in Xinjiang.

In 2021, the US passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which bans any goods made with forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region from entering the United States.

Chinese companies ranging from semiconductor companies, to drone maker DJI, and Chinese polysilicon suppliers have all been banned for Xinjiang-related human rights violations.

In February 2022, CATL issued a statement denying rumors it was seeking professional opinions on whether it would end up the target of US sanctions.

The company is not currently on US list of naughty companies, however, its desire to expand overseas may mean it is a good time for the battery company to show the world how nice it really is by signing up to a UN program. ®

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