Tech

Did You Know A Congo Child Labor Case Regarding Cobalt Mining Ended With 5 Tech Giants Being Absolved Of Wrongdoing?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is among the countries facing a humanitarian crisis. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reported that it’s not only experiencing one of the world’s longest humanitarian crises but also one of the most complex.

A most prevalent issue in the DRC is child labor. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 25,000 children work in cobalt mines.

Despite the alarming rate of exploitation, a case in the U.S. regarding the matter has ended with the defendants not found at fault. Previously, in 2022, Apple, Alphabet Inc. (Google), Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla were said to have been “knowingly benefiting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children in the Democratic Republic of Congo to mine cobalt,” according to ABC News. However, in March 2024, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found the five tech giants not liable due to only having an “ordinary buyer-seller transaction” with DRC suppliers.

“Many actors in addition to the cobalt suppliers perpetuate labor trafficking, including labor brokers, other consumers of cobalt, and even the DRC government,” the decision read, per the outlet. “Issuing an injunction to the Tech Companies to ‘stop the cobalt venture from using forced child labor’ would not bind the direct perpetrators of the unlawful labor, who are not before this court.”

The outlet detailed that the 2022 case was filed by 16 plaintiffs. Moreover, members of the group were “legal representatives of child miners who lost their lives and suffered major injuries in cobalt mining operations in the DRC.” One of the plaintiffs’ claims was that Apple, Alphabet Inc., Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla were aware of the human rights violations and had known for a long period of time. Expansion of cobalt mines — many led by Chinese-owned companies — has also continued, forcing many DRC residents from their homes and stripping them of their rights.

In the midst of cases such as the aforementioned one, effective action has yet to be taken by the DRC’s government to combat such exploitation. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there isn’t a national policy that addresses child labor. However, there are initiatives such as the COTECCO (Combatting Child Labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Cobalt Industry) project that are working with government to reduce child labor in the cobalt supply chain and push for laws and policies to improve conditions.



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