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State Legislators Fail to Advance Anti-Slavery Bill

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Legislators in Richmond are intent on removing all vestiges of slavery in Virginia – including state senators recently voting to end tax breaks for the Daughters of the Confederacy heritage group that sponsored most of the statues that have already been removed from the public square.

But they are surprisingly complacent about the slavery that is still ongoing today.

For example, a bill (HB 1155) submitted by Del. A.C. Cardoza (R-Hampton), would require suppliers of all electric vehicle batteries sold in the commonwealth to annually certify that they were not “manufactured in or sourced from African cobalt mines and that the manufacture or sourcing of such electric vehicle batteries involves no child or slave labor.”

Under the bill, the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services would obtain a certificate of compliance, and any supplier who sold, leased, or licensed such batteries or submitted false claims would be in violation of the law.

Pretty simple and basic, given that the New York Times reported signs of forced labor in China’s EV battery supply chain as its “work transfer” program moved hundreds of ethnic Uyghurs from their homes to work in mines in the Xinjiang region.

And given that Forbes reported, in “The Dirty Secrets Of ‘Clean’ Electric Vehicles,” that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which supplies two-thirds of the world’s supply of cobalt needed for EV batteries, children are being used to hand dig the toxic carcinogen mineral to meet the increasing global demand.

In response to these allegations, Congress passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which authorizes U.S. customs officials to seize any goods, including EV batteries, unless importers can show they were not made by slave labor.

The idea that the U.S., which abolished slavery 161 years ago, should not import products made by slaves in other countries, should not be controversial. Nor should the idea that after banning child labor in the U.S. 86 years ago, we should not endanger children in other countries who are forced to work in mines to provide heavy metals for batteries in electric cars that Virginians drive.

Yet Cordoza’s bill, which was sent to the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources on January 10, was left there to die on the legislature’s Crossover Day, February 13.

As The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy has previously reported, the increasing demand for EVs will require an immense increase in mining activity. That means that sourcing the minerals found in just one typical 1,000 lb. electric car battery means digging up and processing about 250 tons of rock and dirt.

And the bulk of this increased mining activity is being done overseas in countries with far less protection for workers.

So to the many problems with the still-standing state mandate that only electric vehicles can be sold in the commonwealth by 2035, we can add the General Assembly’s failure to exclude EV batteries made with slave and child labor to the list.

And the same lawmakers who tout their opposition to past slavery by tearing down Confederate statues, but continue to drive electric vehicles with batteries currently being mined by the forced labor of others, and instead of condemning such exploitation insist that all Virginians do the same, expose themselves as virtue-signaling hypocrites. 

Barbara Hollingsworth is a Visiting Fellow with the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy and can be reached at  

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