Apple, Google, Tesla and other tech companies accused of profiting from child labor in Africa cobalt mines
The International Rights Advocates filed a lawsuit on Sunday, accusing several of the world’s largest technology firms knowingly engaging and profiting from children laboring under brutal conditions in African cobalt mines. The lawsuit, which was filed in Washington, D.C. on behalf of 14 Congolese families, seeks damages from Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Tesla and Alphabet, the parent company of Google.
According to the announcement, the lawsuit names Apple, Alphabet (Google), Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla as Defendants. “Plaintiffs have evidence that these companies in particular aided and abetted the mines that abused and profited from forcing Plaintiffs and other children to mine cobalt under conditions that led to their deaths or serious, crippling injuries. Plaintiffs’ research team is continuing to investigate other tech and car companies and expects to add additional companies to the lawsuit,” the filing reads.
Cobalt is an essential element in the rechargeable lithium batteries that fuel many electronic devices. The rise of smartphones in the past 20 years has created a large demand for the metal, and the growing popularity of electric cars is expected to further increase demand.
“It is well-documented that the young children mining Defendants’ cobalt are not merely being forced to work full-time, extremely dangerous mining jobs at the expense their educations and futures; they are being regularly maimed and killed. Rather than step up to help these children with a negligible portion of their vast wealth and power, these companies do nothing but continue to benefit from cheap cobalt mined by kids robbed of their childhoods, their health, and for far too many, their lives,” International Rights Advocates added.
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.
Apple declined to comment about the specific allegations in the lawsuit. However, in a statement to CNN Business, the company said that it remains “deeply committed to the responsible sourcing of materials that go into our products.”
“Since 2016, we have published a full list of our identified cobalt refiners every year, 100% of which are participating in independent third party audits,” a spokesperson said. “If a refiner is unable or unwilling to meet our standards, they will be removed from our supply chain. We’ve removed six cobalt refiners in 2019.”
Dell said in a statement that it is “committed to the responsible sourcing of minerals” and “upholding the human rights of workers at any tier of our supply chain and treating them with dignity and respect.”