Tech Giants Sued Over Cobalt Mining Deaths

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Apple, Google, Dell, Tesla and Microsoft sued for deaths and injuries of child miners of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Tech giants including Apple, Tesla, Alphabet, Dell, and Microsoft have been sued by a Washington, DC-based human-rights advocacy group over the mining of precious metal Cobalt in Africa.

The lawsuit, filed by International Rights Advocates on the behalf of 14 unnamed Congolese families, alleges that the defendants “are knowingly benefiting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children in Democratic Republic of Congo (‘DRC) to mine cobalt, a key component of every rechargeable lithium-ion battery used in the electronic devices these companies manufacture.”

The lawsuit also alleges young children (some as young as 6 years old) are not only being forced to work full-time in extremely dangerous mining jobs at the expense their educations and futures; they are being regularly maimed and killed by tunnel collapses.

Cobalt lawsuit

“The modern tech boom brought on a new wave of brutal exploitation to the people of the DRC,” the lawsuit alleges. “The DRC is particularly rich in many minerals needed for the manufacture of the various products made by Defendants Apple, Alphabet,Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla.”

It said that approximately two-thirds of the global supply of cobalt is mined in the “copper belt” region of Haut-Katanga and Lualaba Provinces in the DRC.

“Cobalt is a key component of every rechargeable lithium-ion battery in all of the gadgets made by Defendants and all other tech and electric car companies in the world, that has brought on the latest wave of cruel exploitation fueled by greed, corruption and indifference to a population of powerless, starving Congolese people,” the lawsuit alleges.

It should be noted that the named tech firms reportedly source cobalt from third party suppliers such as Glencore (a British mining company) and Huayou Cobalt (a Chinese cobalt supplier).

Essentially, the tech firms are being accused of not regulating their supply chains properly to ensure that their batteries are not linked to child labour.

Indeed, one of the central allegations in the lawsuit is that the tech firms were aware and had “specific knowledge” that the cobalt they use in their products is linked to child labour performed in hazardous conditions, and were complicit in the forced labour of the children.

Although the case centres around mining conditions in Africa, the lawsuit has been filed in the US District Court in Washington, DC, and specifically the lawsuit alleges violations of the US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorisation Act.

Mining denial

According to the Guardian newspaper, this is the first time that any of the tech companies have faced such a legal challenge.

“Glencore notes the allegations contained in a US lawsuit filed on 15th December 2019,” a Glencore spokesperson told the Guardian newspaper.

“Glencore supports and respects human rights in a manner consistent with the universal declaration of human rights,” the spokesperson added, “Glencore’s production of cobalt in the DRC is a by-product of our industrial copper production. Glencore’s operations in the DRC do not purchase or process any artisanally mined ore.

“Glencore does not tolerate any form of child, forced, or compulsory labour,” the spokesperson added.

“If there is questionable behaviour or possible violation by one of our suppliers, we investigate and take action,” Microsoft told the Daily Telegraph.

Apple in September this year reached an agreement with an unnamed third party supplier that will see it use recycled rare earth elements in its iPhone smartphones.

There are 17 rare earth metals but cobalt is not one of them.

In 2017 Apple pledged to set itself the goal of “one day” making its devices using 100 percent recycled materials, rather than mining for metals and toxic rare materials such as tungsten and cobalt.

Google in August 2019 did the same when it pledged to include recycled materials to be in all of its ‘Made By Google’ products by 2022.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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