Apple, Google, and Tesla accused in lawsuit of ‘aiding and abetting’ child deaths in Congolese cobalt mines

Ore being carried at a mine outside Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

caption
Ore being carried at a mine outside Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
source
Reuters
  • Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla were all named as defendants in a lawsuit about child labor, injury, and death of children in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • Cobalt is a key part of lithium batteries used by the companies’ products, and the majority of it is within the DRC.
  • Apple and other tech companies have previously been accused of not checking whether they were buying the products of child labor.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Apple, Google, Microsoft, Tesla, and Dell have all been named in a federal lawsuit from parents who say their children were injured or killed in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, The Guardian first reported.

International Rights Advocates, a human rights litigation and advocacy group, filed the suit yesterday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of 14 Congolese children and parents, accusing the five major companies named in the suit of “knowingly benefiting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children.”

The suit accuses the companies of forcing children as young as six to work long hours, where they are “regularly maimed and killed.” It includes photos of plaintiffs’ injuries, like crushed and injured legs. The children and their families are seeking damages for unpaid wages, medical costs, and for the “mental anguish and pain and suffering” of being forced to work under dangerous conditions.

Cobalt is a vital resource for tech companies, as a piece of lithium batteries used in iPhones, rechargeable vehicles, and other products. Most of the world’s cobalt is mined from within the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Apple and other companies that use cobalt have been accused of using child labor before, although this is the first time a federal lawsuit has been brought against them. In 2016, a report from Amnesty International accused Apple, Samsung, Sony, and Microsoft of using child labor in the DRC, based on interviews with over 90 people. The report also found that workers did not always get protective equipment, and children were sometimes working 24 hours shifts.

Apple’s Supplier Responsibility Report addresses some of these issues. Under “Juvenile Worker Protections” it specifies that a supplier can hire employees who meet the legal minimum age “provided they do not perform work that might jeopardize their health, safety, or morals.” It also says “supplier shall not require Juvenile Workers to work overtime or perform Nighttime Work.” Apple spokespeople have talked about how the company fights child labor in the past, releasing an annual Conflict Minerals report.

Apple, Microsoft, Google, Tesla, and Dell did not respond to requests for comment.