A handful of big techs have been accused of enabling child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The development comes in the wake of death of children who were working in cobalt mines in the Central African country.
The lawsuit which was filed in Washington DC on Sunday, describes the tragic demise of 5 boys in and injuries of 11, all aged between 13 and 17. According to reports, the victims were crushed and buried alive by tunnel collapses on unsafe mining sites.
Some also allegedly ended up in motorcycle accidents while moving cobalts, and others were gunned down by guards.
The 14 families’ cause is being pled by International Rights Advocates – an advocate group in the United States. According to the bereaved, US tech giants have been aware for some time that kids were being used to work in the mine.
In as much as the big techs do not buy directly from the sites, getting cobalt for their lithium batteries from European third parties implicates them.
The lawsuit accuses the firms of being complicit in the death of the children, as cobalt is a metal used to make batteries for the phones and computers they produce. This marks the first time the American tech industry is jointly facing legal action.
More so, the complaint said the firms were part of the forced labor system that has brought grave harm to the Congolese minors.
More than half of the world’s cobalt is produced in the DRC. Per a 2018 study by the European Commission, the global demand for the valuable metal is expected to rise from 7 percent to 13 percent annually over the next 10 years.
Cobalt, ideal for producing rechargeable batteries, is used in millions of products sold by the tech industry. It is a precious commodity because it possesses thermal stability and high-energy densities, most of which helps its withstand overheating and fire outbreak.
“These companies – the richest companies in the world, these fancy gadget-making companies – have allowed children to be maimed and killed to get their cheap cobalt,” said Terrence Collingsworth, an attorney representing the families.
None of the families’ or children’s names are being disclosed to avoid retaliation. But there are already near-viral pictures of an unspecified boy who lost his legs while working in Huayou Cobalt. As alleged by the lawsuit, this mine in particular, sells cobalt to Apple and Microsoft.
According to the lawsuit, the children, due to extreme poverty, had to leave school and work in mining operations. They were allegedly forced more so by the British mining company Glencore. Prior to this, the company was accused of using child labor in Congo mines in 2012 after an undercover investigation.
Some children were paid as little as USED 1.50 (£1.13) per day, working six days a week, the complaint added. The legal complaint argued that the companies all have the ability to overhaul their cobalt supply chains to ensure safer conditions.
Image Courtesy: Unicef.org