Auguste Mutombo, a Congolese activist, says he’s received death threats–delivered in person–after exposing child labor abuses in the mining sector.
Human rights activist Auguste Mutombo was forced to flee the Democratic Republic of the Congo after being linked to a child labor lawsuit against an array of high-profile tech companies.
The Guardian first reported the lawsuit in December. Filed on behalf of a group of Congolese families, it claims that U.S.-based companies—including the likes of Apple, Dell, Google, Microsoft and Tesla—have aided and abetted the deaths of children employed in mines affiliated with the technology industry.
Mutumbo, says The Guardian, is the executive director of the DRC-based non-profit organization Alternatives Plus. The NGO works to improve labor conditions in artisanal mines.
Mutombo, though, played an integral role in gathering the evidence which formed the lawsuit’s basis. Shortly after details of the complaint went public, Mutombo says he received dozens of death threats, including several made in person. Others were sent to him via text or over the phone, delivered by individuals who claimed links to mining cooperatives. He told The Guardian that, unable to trust local law enforcement, he and his family were forced to flee to Zambia, where they remain in hiding.
“I was expecting some problems following the filing of the lawsuit, but the magnitude of the threats made me feel very fearful for the safety of my family and meant we had to go into hiding for the time that the lawsuit was in the media,” Mutombo said.
“In the past, there have been several cases of murders of human rights activists and the lawsuit threatens the economic interests of many companies in the region,” he said. “It will not stop me doing my work, but there needs to be better protection of activists.”
Harvard academic and anti-slavery advocate Siddharth Kara, who assisted Mutombo’s investigation, said steps have been taken to ensure other families involved in the suit are protected from retaliation.
“We are monitoring the situation in the DRC very closely,” Kara told The Guardian. “We are the only two people in contact with the plaintiffs and our team on the ground, and we have made arrangements to ensure their safety.”
“The aggressive threats against our colleagues after the filing of the lawsuit is further testament to the fact that the humanity of the impoverished people of the Congo, who mine cobalt in horrendous conditions, is considered little more than an impediment to the immense profits being generated by the global cobalt industry,” he said.
CNN notes that the lawsuit accuses the defendant companies of having known, “for a significant period of time,” that mining in the DRC “is dependent upon children.”
“Further, the horrors of the plight of these children has been widely reported in the media,” the suit says, citing an assortment of news reports from different outlets.