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Tech giants face lawsuit over child abuse in DRC cobalt mining

A lawsuit has been filed against tech bigwigs, including Apple, Microsoft, Google, Dell and Tesla by a human rights group representing families of children killed or wounded at cobalt mining sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Cobalt is a metal widely used for manufacturing the products offered by these companies.

International Rights Advocates (IRA) has claimed that the companies “aided and abetted” child abuse through a huge demand for cobalt, thereby forcing children into labor under hazardous conditions in the DRC.

An abstraction of the lawsuit filed by IRA in a district court in Columbia, Ohio, reads: “Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla all have specific policies claiming to prohibit child labour in their supply chains.”

The human rights group also mentioned that failure of these tech companies to rigorously prohibit forced child labour in cobalt mining is a deliberate strategy to ensure the availability of cheap cobalt.

Representatives from Apple and Dell said that the companies have always adopted righteous policies for sourcing of materials. They also added that non-compliant cobalt refiners are immediately removed from their supply chains if they are unable or unwilling to meet stringent standards or if misconduct is reported.

While Dell confirmed it was investigating the child abuse allegations by IRA, other companies like Google, Microsoft and Tesla did not comment on the matter.

The Democratic Republic of Congo alone produces about 60 per cent of the world’s cobalt, a major part of which is extracted by unregulated “artisanal” miners. It is estimated that demand of metal will increase rapidly seeing the growth in use of smartphones and electric vehicles worldwide.

The government of DRC must take measures towards eliminating the exploitation of children as young seven years-old, forcefully working in the country’s cobalt mines. If implemented, the next Congolese generations will spend their childhood in schools rather than working in shady, befouled and dangerous conditions.

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