Will Arizona Stand Up Against Slave and Child Labor?

Published May 2, 2024

Legislation that would prohibit Arizona state entities from entering into or renewing contracts with companies that knowingly use forced labor or child labor for the manufacturing of their products, most notably electric vehicles (EVs), has passed both the Arizona House and Senate and now awaits Gov. Katie Hobbs’ (D) signature.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which can only be manufactured with rare earth elements. Despite their name, rare earth elements are not rare; rather, they are found in low concentrations. This means that rare earth elements are much more difficult to extract than other metals and minerals. Moreover, it is very difficult to separate rare earths from the metal ores in which they are found.

The majority of rare earth deposits are found in China and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). China currently controls nearly 60 percent of rare earths global production and 85 percent of processing capacity. According to a Human Rights Watch report, more than 15 percent of China’s production of the aluminum crucial to the manufacture of EVs comes from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, where the Chinese government has detained approximately 1.8 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups through a system of mass internment camps where they are forced to perform slave labor.

Furthermore, the DRC operates the world’s largest cobalt mine, which produces 95,000 tons of cobalt, representing nearly 41 percent of the world’s total supply. The cobalt ore mined from the DRC is obtained through the use of exploitative child labor in dangerous mining conditions and eventually flows into the Chinese-dominated rare earths supply chain.

This problem has grown so large that concerns about the use of forced labor to extract components necessary for EV production prompted the federal government, with bipartisan support, to pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) in December 2021.

Despite the concern for this humanitarian crisis, the federal government and state governments continue to turn a blind eye to companies making these components for EVs while they push for transitioning all state and federal fleets to EVs for the sake of their net-zero goals.

In December 2021, the Biden administration issued an executive order calling for most federal vehicle acquisitions to be zero-emission vehicles by 2035. Additionally, various states have attempted to follow suit with similar legislation including MinnesotaIllinoisHawaiiMassachusetts, and New York.

It is evident that in these cases, lawmakers are more concerned about their green conscience than their humanity for those who are forced to work under slave-like conditions, or impoverished children who have no other choice than to risk their lives to support their families.

Fortunately, Arizona has a chance to rise above the fray. House Bill 2591 aligns with federal guidelines and leverages the state’s power of the purse and the power of state contracts in an attempt to govern ethically.

The policy solution in HB 2591 would simply require that any EV manufacturer provide a sworn statement that consents to jurisdiction by the state over the manufacturer and certify that no entity involved in the production of the EV or its components used forced labor or child labor throughout its supply chain.

Ultimately, this is now in the hands of Gov. Katie Hobbs. Hopefully, she will recognize the majority support from her legislature for this measure and act accordingly.

However, even if this bill is vetoed by Hobbs, it will remain a shining example of legislation that other states can emulate to help make their states and our interconnected world a better place.

Photo by Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic