Tech companies sued for child cobalt mining deaths

Your smartphones, laptops, and electric cars are all powered with cobalt — but it's costing kids in Africa their lives. We spoke with a human rights attorney who is suing the big tech companies that allow this to happen.

Children are risking their lives to mine cobalt

“All of the companies that we have sued have gadgets, or in the case of Tesla electric cars that promise us the future. They brought the world to our fingertips. There are these amazing new high-tech gadgets that are going to change the future for all of us. All of them have some form of a rechargeable lithium ion battery. Every cell phone, every laptop, every electric car has its needs.”, Terrence Collingsworth, a member of the International Rights Advocates, explains to Brut.

“I don’t study, my job, it’s to dig ores”

More than 60% of cobalt originates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where about 40,000 children are estimated to be used to dig for the toxic metal. 5 U.S. tech giants – Apple, Google, Microsoft, Dell, Tesla – are being accused of being complicit in the deaths of children in DRC – while mining cobalt.

“Microsoft, Apple and Tesla claimed to be worth more than a trillion dollars and trillion dollars. And they can't go into this place where they're mining an essential component of these fancy phones that cost a lot of money, or these fancy electric cars, they can't go in there and spend some quality time to fix the supply chain so the children are not being killed and maimed. That is just shocking.”, Collingsworth continues.

The landmark lawsuit was filed in Washington D.C. by International Rights Advocates on behalf of 14 Congolese families

“I heard these horrible stories from the kids who'd been literally buried alive and survived. And then even worse were stories of the mothers whose children were killed in a mine collapse. Our lawsuit that we filed is the first effort to legally hold these tech companies responsible for what is happening in their supply chains and particularly this level of brutality in their supply chains.”, he shares.

Tech giants had “specific knowledge”

The tech giants are accused of “specific knowledge” about child labor in
their products – supplied to them by major mining companies Glencore and Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt.

“These companies are responsible and we're going to prove it that they had knowledge and they benefit from this cheap source of cobalt that is largely attributable to the horrible conditions under which it is mined. The cost of the cobalt in any one phone is probably a dollar, 2 dollars max. So if you tripled that price and that was enough, and I think it would be to make the mines safe and to pay the adult workers enough that they can let their kids stay in school and not have to watch them suffer and die, too. That I don't think a consumer would care if their $1000 iPhone cost one thousand and two dollars.”, Collingsworth reveals to Brut.

In 2016, Amnesty International first warned about human rights abuses linked to cobalt mining in DRC

“They've been on notice, well before the Amnesty report, but even if we put their knowledge at 2016 when Amnesty questioned them on the record, from that point on, they have known that they are benefiting from this cobalt mining supply chain process that is maiming and killing children. And the most that I was able to observe that any of them have done is issue these useless paper policies that they side to. I think that the people who are paying 1000 dollars for an iPhone are a different audience, that they know that phone is expensive. And by God, they want it to be perfect. They wanted to launch satellites with that phone. They certainly don't want to look at it and be reminded every time they pick it up that it's got the blood of children in it.”, he concludes.