It’s a major, unprecedented movement. Tech giants around the world are angry with families and human rights organizations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo over the exploitation of children in cobalt mines. A lawsuit has just been launched in the United States.
The lawsuit was filed Sunday by International Rights Advocates (IRA) in a Washington court; on behalf of 14 unidentified victims, family members of children killed in collapsed tunnels or walls, or children mutilated in the same circumstances.
She accuses Apple, Microsoft, Tesla, Google’s parent company and Dell of taking advantage of child labor and imposing “forced labor and emotional distress” on cobalt mines. It is the first time that one of these technology companies has faced such a legal challenge.
If the stakes were not as serious, it would be « tempting to laugh » at the derisory measures they proposed to remedy them
Cobalt is a rare metal, crucial for the manufacture of mobile phone batteries and electric vehicles. But the conditions of extraction and marketing in the DRC, the world’s largest producer with more than 60% of production, are hotly contested.
« The explosion in the technology sector has led to an explosion in demand for cobalt, » IRA said in a statement.
However, cobalt is “mined in the DRC on extremely dangerous Stone Age conditions by children who are paid one or two dollars a day to supply the cobalt used for expensive gadgets made by some of the wealthiest companies in the world. world ”, continues the association.
According to the accusing families, their children worked in mines belonging to the British company Glencore, but also to Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, a large Chinese cobalt mining company. And one of the main allegations on which the families’ complaints are based is that Apple, Microsoft, Google and Dell had “specific knowledge” that the cobalt they use in their products is linked to child labor carried out under dangerous conditions; and are therefore complicit in forced child labor.
« If the stakes were not as serious, » it would be « tempting to laugh » at the derisory measures they have proposed to address them, « the document said. The association plans to add other groups to the list.
Asked by The Guardian, a Glencore spokesperson said: “Glencore supports and respects human rights in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (…) Glencore does not tolerate any form of work children, forced or compulsory ”. For the time being, the cited tech giants have yet to respond to the charges against them.
The DRC, which is rich in mineral resources, remains one of the least developed countries in the world. And the richness of the subsoil contributes to fuel the armed conflicts which have torn apart the East of the country for more than 20 years.