Arcadium Lithium: Drying Argentina’s Andes to Power EVs

  • Arcadium Lithium’s enormous water draw is depleting dwindling supplies for communities in Argentina and their revered ecosystems. 
  • The supplier to automotive giants like Tesla and Toyota has promised sustainable water practices, but a Hunterbrook Media investigation involving on-the-ground visits, a review of tens of thousands of pages of local permitting documents, mining technical reports, Argentinian court filings and security filings, and interviews with experts found that Arcadium’s flagship operation has required more water to make its product than the U.S.-based company has presented.
  • With Arcadium banking on rapid growth, its long-term plans are in limbo as the provincial government considers for the first time how Arcadium’s project, called Fénix, could dry out more of the Salar in conjunction with the many other prospectors flocking to the area. 
  • Some lawyers think litigation around access to water will increase, and nearby community members are calling for change now that a portion of the river and wetland has dried out after Arcadium’s dam blocked the river upstream. The company’s touted restoration effort has so far addressed roughly 1% of the damage, according to a Hunterbrook examination. 
  • In the 30 years since Argentina issued its first lithium concession to Arcadium, the country has become home to more than 100 projects with permission to explore for the metal.
  • At the Salar alone, there are at least eight projects all competing for access to water — and making the scramble for profits even more disruptive and harder to measure. 
  • A separate Hunterbrook Media investigation by Certified Fraud Examiner Nick Gibbons found that Arcadium appears to have used aggressive accounting to mask a substantial decline in Livent profitability; surging inventories compared to peers point to unsustainable gross margins; and adjustments to EBITDA and other metrics have boosted executive compensation.



American food giant Archer-Daniels-Midland owns a major stake in two factories in Xinjiang — a Chinese region notorious for state-imposed forced labor — through 22.5% ownership of Wilmar International. Since forced labor campaigns intensified in 2017, the two facilities have quietly expanded their footprint, while other companies left Xinjiang. Gregory Morris, president of ADM’s largest division, serves on Wilmar’s board. His seat was previously held by ADM’s current CEO, including during Wilmar’s expansion of both facilities. ADM says it has “significant influence” on Wilmar. Both companies have pledged to eliminate forced labor from their supply chain. Yet, ADM has not disclosed these facilities — claiming, instead, that there is “no identifiable direct or indirect connection between ADM and the region” — even though the U.S. government determined state-led forced labor and other human rights violations in Xinjiang amounted to genocide and placed a blanket ban on U.S. import of goods from the region. A partner company of Wilmar’s in Xinjiang has denied forced labor occurs at one of the facilities. Nell Minow, co-founder of Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), told Hunterbrook Media that Morris should step down from the board. This is the latest in a string of governance problems at ADM, which experts say risk ADM’s access to environmental, social, and governance funding and customer relationships with companies opposed to slave labor.

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