Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla are accused of “knowingly benefiting” from child labour in cobalt supply chains. 

International Rights Advocates, a non-profit that provides legal support, filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of 14 families from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with children who were either killed or seriously injured mining for cobalt.

According to the complaint, child cobalt miners as young as six years old are working in “exceedingly harsh, hazardous, and toxic conditions”.  The complaint accused the tech firms of “knowingly benefiting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children in DRC to mine cobalt”.

The demand for cobalt, which is a key component in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars, laptops and smartphones, has tripled in the last five years and is expected to double again by 2020.   Up to 60% of the world’s cobalt originates from the DRC and a fifth of this is mined by artisanal miners. The extraction process has been linked to human rights abuses and child labour.

While all of the tech firms have “voluntary programmes” to prevent the use of child and forced labour in their supply chains, they have yet to take “meaningful action to prevent further deaths”, International Rights Advocates said.

“The companies are intentionally failing to exercise the required due diligence because it is in their interests to hide behind the ventures they have formed and obtain a steady supply of cheap cobalt,” the complaint continued.

Two mining companies, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt and Glencore, were also mentioned in the complaint as owners of the minefields where the families alleged their children worked.

Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Tesla, and Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt have been contacted for comment.

Source: Supply Chain Management