KEY POINTS

  • Top technology companies including Apple, Microsoft, and Tesla have been sued for child labor
  • International Rights Ad vocates filed a class-action suit in Washington seeking damages over cobalt sourcing from Congo  
  • Cobalt is a vital component in lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars, laptops, smartphones, and other gadgets

Top technology companies Apple, Google, Microsoft, Dell, and Tesla have been sued by an international advocacy group accusing them of “knowingly benefiting from” the brutal exploitation of young children in the cobalt mines of Congo.

The federal class action was filed on Sunday in Washington, D.C. by International Rights Advocates, CNN reported. 

The lawsuit accuses the companies of “aiding and abetting in the death and serious injury of children working in cobalt mines in their supply chain.”

Congo supplies 60 percent of the world's cobalt required for lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars, laptops, and smart phones.

According to a report by The Guardian , the lawsuit represents 14 families and also injured children who wanted damages and compensation on forced labor and “unjust enrichment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Seeks fund to deliver medical care

The lawsuit also wants the court to direct Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla to set up a fund to help the plaintiffs receive medical care.

In the lawsuit, Congolese families described their plight as children driven by extreme poverty work in large mining sites, for as little as $2 a day. They do backbreaking and dangerous work including digging cobalt rocks with primitive tools in unlit areas and underground tunnels.

One plaintiff Jane Doe 1 said her nephew was forced to work in the cobalt mines at tender age and during the work a tunnel collapsed and he was buried alive. The family never recovered his body, The Guardian reported.

The advocacy group said children are exploited in mining operations of Glencore, Umicore, and Chinese Cobalt firm Huayou Cobalt.Both  Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt and Glencore owning minefields in Congo are listed on the lawsuit, per BBC News .

The class action lawsuit also invokes the remark by the U.S. Department of Labor that cobalt mined in Congo has child labor or forced labor involved.

Ambiguous stand on cobalt sourcing

According to the CNN report, many of the companies including Tesla had been ambivalent in divulging the source of Cobalt citing the “complex supply chains and nature of sourcing” the precious metal. 

Apple revealed its source of suppliers during a CNN survey.  The United States says a French digitax services tax unfairly targets American tech companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon Photo: AFP / LOIC VENANCE

Apple spokesperson said: “If a refiner is unwilling to meet our standards, they will be removed and we removed six cobalt refiners in 2019.”

Dell said it is “committed to the responsible sourcing of minerals” and vowed to uphold the human rights of workers.

Microsoft, Tesla, and Google, whose parent company Alphabet is a defendant, did not comment. 

Miner Glencore also denied allegations and a spokesman told CNN that the company “does not tolerate any form of child labor, forced, or compulsory labor.”

In the past, Tesla had told a CNN survey that it sourced most of the cobalt from suppliers outside Congo and is “committed to only sourcing responsibly-produced materials.”