Five U.S. technology companies, Apple, Google parent Alphabet, Microsoft, Dell and Tesla, filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. on Sunday (15th) local time. The organization, on behalf of child labourers and their guardians who were maimed and killed while working in cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), sued the five technology companies for the procurement and use of cobalt mined by child labourers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The lawsuit was launched by the International Human Rights Initiative, an international human rights litigation and advocacy group, the Financial Times reported. The IRA was formerly the International Labour Rights Seminar. In 2007, the seminar’s legal team established an IRA as a separate legal entity to initiate overseas human rights violations proceedings specifically against U.S. companies.
This time, the IRA filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 14 DRC children and parents in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Dell and Tesla were lax in regulating their cobalt supply chains, where cobalt mining forced children to work in dangerous conditions.
The 14 plaintiffs represented included children who were maimed by accidents such as tunnels and wall collapses while mining cobalt mines, as well as guardians of children who died. One of the disabled children was only 15 years old when he was paralysed below the chest when he slipped from a steep mine while pulling the cobalt mine, Fortune reported.
The group said the five companies “knowingly and brutally treated child labour and continue to encourage and benefit from the practice”.
The prosecution alleges that these companies force dying for long periods of time for children, resulting in “disability and death”. These children and their families face not only problems with unpaid wages and medical expenses, but also the “mental pain and suffering” of being forced to work in harsh conditions.
“Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla all have policies that claim to prohibit child labor in the supply chain,” the IRA said in an indictment filed in state district court. They did so to prevent companies from reaping windfallprofits from cheap cobalt. “
“These world’s richest, sophisticated companies allow children to maim and kill in order to get cheap cobalt. Terry Collingsworth, the plaintiff’s lead attorney and executive director of the IRA, said.
The children, who had to leave school to work at the cobalt mine because of their family’s extreme poverty, were paid only $1.50 (about 10.5 yuan) a day and worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, the lawsuit said.
“Either starve or risk your life to earn food.” That’s the choice of these people. Collinsworth said.
In an interview with Fortune local time, Dell’s spokeswoman, Lauren Lee, said in an interview with Fortune local time that the company was investigating the allegations and stressed that Dell valued workers’ human rights.
“We are not sure that any form of involuntary labor, fraudulent recruitment, or child labor has occurred during the procurement process,” Lee wrote in an e-mail. “
Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Tesla have yet to respond to the allegations.
This is the first time that Apple’s technology companies have faced federal lawsuits over child labor, according to business insiders.
Cobalt is an important metal resource for technology companies and an indispensable material for the manufacture of lithium batteries used in iPhones, electric vehicles and other electronics.
Congo congoon is a major cobalt producer. About 60 per cent of the world’s cobalt is produced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where one third of the cobalt mined comes from unregulated artisanal miners.
The Financial Times estimates that demand for cobalt will increase rapidly as a result of the rise of the electric car industry in recent years.
Technology companies such as Apple have pledged to take responsibility for the purchase of materials. According to the Financial Times, Apple has said it will remove cobalt refiners from its supply chain that are “unable or unwilling to meet the company’s “strictest standards.”
For technology companies, however, the “clean-up of the supply chain” seems to be much more complicated than the technology companies themselves claim.
The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tracks global cobalt operations and last month reported “completely different” expectations for technology companies: many of the world’s largest cobalt producers use cobalt mined by hand miners and mix hand-mined cobalt into their own cobalt, Fortune reported. The report says the more organized industry operations have made the situation in the artisanal mining industry, where corruption is as widespread as child labour.