The company plans a shift away from using cobalt amid questions about the provenance of the metal as it experiments with different future cell chemistries.
While its next-generation batteries already have 10% less cobalt than earlier ones, Mercedes-Benz is signing up to the ‘Standard for Responsible Mining' charter, which forms part of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance.
Mercedes said while it wanted to better control risks associated with certain countries of origin such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, it did not intend to pull out immediately. Instead, it wants to help people on the ground improve the local situation and to strengthen their rights. It plans to use its leverage before withdrawing to encourage local economic growth while establishing a higher degree of human rights.
"If there are any indications of risk, we take another, closer look at the supply chain. This involves us going beyond the direct suppliers and creating transparency, if necessary back to the mine," said Daimler board member Renata Jungo Brungger.
Using the initiative as a springboard, Mercedes says it will soon transition to sourcing cobalt and lithium only from certified mines as it prepares to assure a low-carbon, ethical supply chain for emission-less vehicles.
"Going forward, we will only work with suppliers who agree to comply with these requirements," said board member Markus Schäfer.
Battery makers have long sought ways to reduce or eliminate the use of cobalt, driven in part by record metal prices in recent years and because of ongoing questions about alleged humans rights abuses at Congo mines, where child labour is said to be commonplace.
The announcement is in line with a trend sweeping the EV industry to reduce the upstream carbon intensity of products used to make EVs, with Tesla boss Elon Musk recently challenging the world's nickel producers to supply the car maker with carbon-neutral metal.