Congolese families file suit against US tech companies over cobalt mining

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The mine was a challenge to my preconceptions. In Kailo they mine wolframite and casserite. Before the war the mines were operated by a state run company, the defunct infrastructure can be glimpsed under bushes and vines. The company still has a smart office in the centre of the village, but instead of mining they take a percentage of the proceeds of the artisan miners and the traders. Most of the workers are from the area, although I met some from the province of Kasai. Children were working with their parents, helping with panning for the ore, carrying and selling goods to the workers. The mine is made up of widely dispersed open pits. Most pits were 4 to 10 metres deep with the occasional 25 metre pit. Next to the pits were the temporary huts of the workers. There did not appear to be the squalor or disease that we find in gold mines. Although there were ‘maison de tolerance’ as they are politely called here with the associated risks of sexual diseases, AIDS and child prostitution. As we left the mine we crossed two four wheel drive cars carrying men from a British company interested in investing in the mine.

Families of young children from the Democratic Republic of Congo who have been injured or killed while mining cobalt launched a lawsuit against Apple, Google, Tesla, Dell and Microsoft on Sunday.

Cobalt is used in batteries for the electronic devices that technology companies manufacture and is abundant in the Congo.

The complaint details the dangerous conditions in which children are working and makes comparisons with the conditions with the 16-19th century slave trade. The impoverished children are digging with rudimentary equipment and without adequate safety precautions for USD $2-3 a day.

The complaint states the defendant companies “all have specific policies claiming to prohibit child labor in their supply chains. Their failure to actually implement these policies to stop forced child labor in cobalt mining is an intentional act to avoid ending their windfall of getting cheap cobalt mined by forced child labor that they are acutely aware of.”

The plaintiffs assert claims for forced child labor in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and seek relief based on unjust enrichment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Lead counsel International Rights Advocates said, “we will do everything possible to get justice quickly for the children we represent.”

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