Big Tech Weasels Out Of Child Labor Scandal

In a case involving allegations of supporting the exploitation of children in the mining of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a U.S. judge exonerated the largest tech corporations in the U.S.

Reports show that allegations were made in court filings accusing Alphabet Inc., Apple, Microsoft, Dell, and Tesla of intentionally profiting from and helping to facilitate the inhumane and cruel use of children in the DRC to extract cobalt. U.S. Court of Appeals in DC ruled 3-0 that the businesses couldn’t be sued because their dealings with DRC suppliers were typical buyer-seller transactions, the court said.

According to the ruling, labor trafficking is perpetuated by a wide range of players, including labor brokers, cobalt suppliers, cobalt users, and the government of the DRC. The individuals directly responsible for the illegal labor practices were not present in the court. Therefore, a court order prohibiting the tech companies from engaging in forced child labor would not hold them accountable.

In December 2022, sixteen plaintiffs, including four ex-miners and the legal guardians of minors killed or severely injured while working as miners for cobalt in the DRC, filed the lawsuit.

The mining of cobalt,  a vital ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, is known to cause harmful contamination that has devastating effects on human health and the environment.  Toxic cobalt dust causes asthma, skin hypersensitivity, impaired lung function, and respiratory problems in workers, including children and women. Severe skin and lung illnesses might develop with prolonged contact.

The case asserts that the defendants have known about human rights violations for a considerable amount of time, and that they have known about the cruel and brutal use of young children in the mines and have benefited from it or helped to facilitate it.

Over 70% of the globe’s cobalt deposits are located in the DRC.

The head of Rights and Accountability in Development, Anneke Van Woudenberg, told a media outlet that cobalt is an essential mineral. As we move toward net-zero energy consumption, the demand for cobalt, which is used in the battery cells of electric cars and electronic devices, is on the rise.