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Lawsuits & Litigation

Tesla, Google Accused of Buying Deadly Congolese Cobalt

— December 19, 2019

The lawsuit, filed by the families of children killed in Congolese mining operations, accuses big tech companies of knowingly buying cobalt mined by kids.

An international lawsuit has been launched by the families of Congolese children killed in cobalt mining operations.

The case, writes the BBC, has been filed by International Rights Advocates on behalf of 14 families. Together, they accuse some of the world’s foremost technology companies of profiting off cobalt sales tainted by child labor and inhumane working conditions.

Cobalt, used in lithium-ion batteries and certain high-grade alloys, is regularly purchased by technology companies and electronics manufacturers. Demand for the mineral has tripled in the past five years alone, driven by the omnipresence of digital goods and “smart” household appliances.

As The Guardian reports, more than 60% of the world’s current cobalt supply is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Also known as the DRC, the Congo is among the world’s poorest, most politically unstable countries.

Among the defendants listed in the suit are Google, Apple, Microsoft, Dell and Tesla. And, according to the lawsuit, companies like Google and Apple were aware that cobalt used in their products could have child labor links.

An under-construction Tesla vehicle. Image via Flickr/user:pestoverde. (CCA-BY-2.0).

The families of the dead children—as well as others injured—want damages for forced labor. They’re also hoping to receive further compensation for “unjust enrichment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Most of the plaintiffs say their children were working illegally at mines owned by overseas companies, including UK-based Glencore. Glencore, in turn, sells its cobalt to Umicore, which distributes “battery-grade” minerals to Apple, Dell, Google, Microsoft and Tesla.

Similarly, the plaintiffs also claim affiliation with mines owned by Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, a Chinese firm which also sells minerals to technology companies.

In both cases, Congolese families say their children felt compelled by circumstance and extreme poverty to seek illegal employment. Oftentimes, the children would be paid as little as $2 per day for performing dangerous work, often underground and carried out with primitive tools.

Several of the children named anonymously in the suit—like Jane Doe 1 and John Doe 1—were caught in tunnel collapses. Jane Due 1—who’s suggested to be male by The Guardian—was buried alive. However, his body was never recovered. John Doe 1, too, was partially crushed by a rockfall. While he survived the accident, he remains paralyzed from the chest down.

According to The Guardian, it’s the first time any of the defendant companies have been sued for child labor abuses in relation to cobalt supplies and stores.


Apple and Google named in US lawsuit over Congolese child cobalt mining deaths

Top tech firms sued over DR Congo cobalt mining deaths

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