Apple is one of five global technology giants that have been accused of being complicit in child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The others are Google parent firm Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla.
US human rights group International Rights Advocates filed a legal complaint on behalf of the 14 families involved over the weekend. It accuses the five companies of being co-responsible for the deaths of children who were mining cobalt against their will.
This metal is used in computer and phone batteries. The complaint states that the firms formed part of a brutal forced labour system that the families believe led to serious injury and the deaths of their children.
This is the first time ever that the technology industry faces litigation over the way that it obtains cobalt. The documents presented to a Washington DC district court show images of children with missing or disfigured limbs.
Terrence Collingsworth, the families’ legal representative, said these firms “have allowed children to be maimed and killed to get their cheap cobalt”. According to the complaint, the children worked six days a week for a paltry $1.50 per day.
For them, Collingsworth said, there were only two choices: risk your life or starve. More than half of all cobalt on Earth comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It is used in the manufacture of rechargeable lithium batteries, and according to the EU, demand will increase up to 13% a year over the next 10 years.
Apple, Tesla, Microsoft and Google failed to immediately comment, while Dell claimed that it has never knowingly supported child labour. Modern slavery expert Siddharth Kara said that this might be the “the worst injustice of slavery and child expert exploitation that I’ve seen in my two decades research”.
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