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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.

Brut.

02/17/2020 11:19 AMupdated: 02/24/2020 2:21 PM
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57 comments

  • K K.
    03/12/2020 16:05

    Thank you Congo ❤️

  • Karen E.
    03/02/2020 14:40

    They should never use child labor!! If the mega phone companies do this without giving these jobs to adults then shame on them!! You mean apple couldn’t build a simple school Also supplies and food. Oh that would cost too much!! Really ???

  • Intolerable N.
    03/01/2020 15:15

    Some of the leaders love money. Money is the root of all evil. We are our own enemies.

  • Intolerable N.
    03/01/2020 15:14

    Who sold us out as slaves. Do blame it on the outsiders. Who went into the jungles and caught us.

  • Ann M.
    02/28/2020 22:02

    Just pay them 🙄 you have more than enough money to pay them

  • Nick C.
    02/26/2020 05:45

    Considering the tech world is only trying to build BIGGER batteries this problem is only going to grow...

  • Nick C.
    02/26/2020 05:44

    So everybody was all up-in-arms about Blood Diamonds... this is EXACTLY the same thing... WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE? WHO IS GOING TO STOP BUYING THESE ELECTRONICS LIKE WE ALL STOPPED BUYING BLOOD DIAMONDS?

  • Nick C.
    02/26/2020 05:42

    the Western standard of living is only sustainable when upheld by the poor people of the world... what's so hard to understand? Do you ever think maybe this civilization we've built won't last forever like so many seem to think it will?

  • Nick C.
    02/26/2020 05:39

    kinda makes you wish China would send that EMP... then we'll see how badly you really need these superfluous things in your life

  • Rose B.
    02/24/2020 21:49

    God bless

  • Leirbag S.
    02/22/2020 19:03

    Pero eso no es culpa de los consumidores , los celulares los hacen así y lo compramos sin preguntar eso ni ellos nos dicen . Que podemos hacer si es lo que hay ...

  • Mathew M.
    02/21/2020 04:37

    Oh the irony is baffling.. 😂🤷‍♂️

  • Melody P.
    02/20/2020 21:44

    the companies that do this mining method should be made accountable for this method...surely there is a better way?

  • Lilah S.
    02/20/2020 14:02

    That is insane

  • Joyce E.
    02/20/2020 12:44

    OMG 😱

  • Albert R.
    02/19/2020 21:50

    Sue the government. Let's stop this anti big business syndrome. What happens to the kids and adults if the companies leave? smh

  • M B.
    02/19/2020 15:40

    Thank you for publishing this article, oh Gosh you do not have any idea what's going on in this area, we are trying to make an outcry for the Eastern of Congo but they won't stop killing, violence and so many horrible things they are doing on this area. Yes, there are so many ways that they can get it however they choose to kill. Those children so many of them are orphans.

  • Luisa M.
    02/18/2020 23:33

    This is happening for decades and we do another documentary’s another day & nothing NOTHING change!!! It’s not the buying it’s the fact they use the vulnerable kids for the size of their body’s & hands promising dreams but they live in horrendous conditions & work for few pennies !!! Name shame the companies make them Reorganize doing the right way without corrupting the countries governments the ones in power for thousand of dollars to have solo access of the area. It’s a sick situation everywhere corruption comes from them And teaching the locals it’s ok to accept bribes ... it’s time to change !!!

  • Maxine B.
    02/18/2020 22:11

    So sad and painful to watch. What can we do?

  • Elimane W.
    02/18/2020 21:21

    .where's kabila and these corrupt african leaders???