Apple, Google, Microsoft, Tesla, and Dell, named in US Lawsuit over Congolese Child Labor and Deaths in Cobalt Mines

DRC_Co extraction in DRC
Cobalt extraction in DRC has been linked to child labour. Photograph: Sebastian Meyer/Corbis via Getty Images

This is a first, and hopefully not the last: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Tesla, and Dell have all been named in a US lawsuit over Congolese child labor and death in cobalt mines. These companies all have specific policies prohibiting child labor in their supply chains, yet they turn a blind eye to the abuse happening in cobalt mines. As you all know, cobalt is one of the miracle minerals charging the entire handheld device boom observed in the past decade; it is essential to the lithium batteries which charge the smartphones in our pockets, the personal computers without which most of us cannot function, and the electric vehicles which claim to be better against pollution (and yet there is cobalt, and more, and Congo is polluted…). Enjoy excerpts from the article on CNN.


DRC_Children digging for Co near Lake Malo
 Children digging for cobalt near Lake Malo. Photograph: Siddharth Kara

An international advocacy group has accused Apple, Google, Microsoft, Dell and Tesla of “knowingly benefiting from” the use of young children to mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

International Rights Advocates filed a federal class action against the five companies in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, where the group is based. The complaint claims that the firms “are knowingly benefiting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children” to mine cobalt in extremely dangerous conditions.
The defendants have known for a “significant period of time” that Congo’s mining sector “is dependent upon children,” the complaint said, adding that cobalt mined in the region is listed as a good produced by child labor or forced labor by the US Department of Labor.
Further, the horrors of the plight of these children has been widely reported in the media,” the complaint said, citing reports about the cobalt pipeline published by the Washington Post, the Guardian and others.
Heterogenite (cobalt oxyhydroxide) from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo Illustration by 731: Photos: Courtesy the Arkenstone

Cobalt is a major component of lithium-ion batteries found in virtually every rechargeable electronic gadget. Two-thirds of the world’s cobalt comes from Congo.

In 2018, a CNN investigation found that child labor and corruption was still rife there. Many companies including Tesla told CNN at the time that they were unable to fully trace out their supply chains due to what they described as the complex nature of sourcing the precious metal. But the electric carmaker also said it sourced most of its cobalt from suppliers outside Congo and was “committed to only sourcing responsibly-produced materials.” Apple was one of only a few companies to reveal their suppliers to CNN. 
The new suit was filed on behalf of more than a dozen anonymous plaintiffs, who are described as “guardians of children killed in tunnel or wall collapses” while mining, or “children who were maimed in such accidents.”
[…] International Rights Advocates claims in the lawsuit that the children were exploited and hurt in mining operations linked to the mining companies Glencore (GLCNF), Umicore and Huayou Cobalt, which the group said supply to either some or all of the defendants. 
[…] International Rights Advocates is seeking damages for the alleged victims. The group said in its complaint that it is requesting that the court order Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla to start a fund to help the plaintiffs receive medical care.