Tech companies face lawsuit over child labour in cobalt mines

17 December 2019

17 December 2019 Several major technology companies, including electric-vehicle specialist Tesla, are facing a class-action lawsuit over the serious injuries and deaths of child workers while mining cobalt. The case has been filed by IRAdvocates on behalf of 14 plaintiffs who are either guardians of children killed in tunnel or wall collapses while mining cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or children maimed in such accidents. The companies named are accused of aiding and abetting in dangerous practices. The country has the world’s largest deposits of cobalt, a material that is essential in the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries used by technology companies and electric-car manufacturers. With the demand for technology increasing, the demand for cobalt has also risen substantially. Dangerous conditions The lawsuit names Tesla along with tech firms Apple, Alphabet (Google), Dell and Microsoft as defendants. Plaintiffs have evidence that these companies in particular aided and abetted the mines that abused and profited from forcing plaintiffs and other children to mine cobalt under conditions that led to their deaths or serious, crippling injuries. The plaintiffs’ research team is continuing to investigate other tech and car companies and expects to add additional companies to the lawsuit. ′It is well-documented that the young children mining Defendants’ cobalt are not merely forced to work full-time, extremely dangerous mining jobs at the expense their educations and futures; they are regularly maimed and killed,’ IRAdvocates say. ′Rather than step up to help these children with a negligible portion of their vast wealth and power, these companies do nothing but continue to benefit from cheap cobalt mined by kids robbed of their childhoods, their health, and for far too many, their lives.’ Plaintiffs’ lead counsel, Terry Collingsworth, adds: ″we will do everything possible to get justice quickly for the children we represent. In my 35 years as a human-rights lawyer, I have never seen such extreme abuse of innocent children on a large scale. This astounding cruelty and greed needs to stop.″ Projects starting The need for sustainable and ethical cobalt supplies is not lost on the automotive market. With the pressure to develop electric vehicles for market rapidly so CO2 emission fines expected in 2021 are reduced, many carmakers are seeking battery materials in large deliveries to ensure they can build enough cars to meet expected demand. BMW has been the most vocal about the need to ensure that any cobalt secured from DRC comes from ethical mining. The company, together with BASF SE, Samsung SDI and Samsung Electronics launched the ″Cobalt for Development″ pilot project, aimed at improving working conditions at a cobalt mine in the country in September. The group commissioned the Deutsche Gesellschaft fÃœr Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH to assess how living and working conditions in artisanal cobalt mining and the surrounding communities can be improved. Together with authorities in the province of Lualaba, the project has selected a legal artisanal mine site near to Kolwezi to pilot the approach. ′Sustainability is an important aspect of our corporate strategy and plays a key role in expanding electro-mobility. We are fully aware of our responsibility: Cobalt and other commodities must be extracted and processed under ethically responsible conditions,’ emphasises Andreas Wendt, member of the board of management of BMW AG, purchasing and supplier network.