After participating in the Responsible Cobalt Initiative (RCI) last year, BMW Group has taken further steps to improve transparency in its battery cell supply chain by promising to release information on smelters and countries of origin for raw materials by the end of this year.

The carmaker also plans to release a feasibility study on potential model mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – the source of the majority of the world's cobalt – to help improve the social and ecological situation there.

Cobalt is used in significant quantities in high-voltage batteries for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

An Amnesty International report released last year found that children as young as seven were working in some of the informal mining areas in the DRC, while it was estimated that as many as 40,000 children worked in these often unsafe operations.

“The challenge facing companies that work with cobalt as a raw material is that risks related to environmental standards and human rights cannot be completely eliminated in cobalt mining,” said BMW in a statement.

It expects the first steps in verifying a local model project to coincide with the publication of smelters and countries of origin in December.

Ursula Mathar, head of sustainability and environmental protection at BMW, said: “The BMW group does not procure any cobalt itself; it only comes into contact with this raw material through the purchase of battery cells, for example. However, we are well aware that growing demand for electric vehicles also goes hand-in-hand with a responsibility for the extraction of relevant raw materials, such as cobalt.

“As a premium manufacturer – and in the interests of our customers – we aim to establish a transparent and sustainable supply chain that meets the highest standards.”