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US Court Exonerates World’s Largest Tech Firms From DRC Child Cobalt Mining Deaths

But in a 3-0 decision, a federal court in the US District of Columbia sided with the tech companies arguing that the firms only maintained a commercial relationship with their suppliers and that they had no power to stop the use of child labour.

A US court on Tuesday ruled that five of the world’s major technology companies are not liable for the deaths of children who were forced to labour in cobalt mining operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Apple, Tesla, Dell, Microsoft, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, were sued in a landmark case in 2019 brought by families of children killed or injured while mining for cobalt – a metal used to power smartphones, laptops, and electric cars.

The families accused the tech giants of abetting and joining suppliers in a venture that profited from the labour of children who were forced to work in dangerous conditions that eventually led to their deaths or serious injuries.

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Apple, Tesla, and the other three tech giants sourced their cobalt from Glencore-owned mines in the DRC, where children driven by extreme poverty to work in those areas were paid as low as $2 (£1.50) a day for dangerous work digging in dark underground tunnels, the complaint had said.

But in a 3-0 decision, a federal court in the US District of Columbia sided with the tech companies arguing that the firms only maintained a commercial relationship with their suppliers and that they had no power to stop the use of child labour.

“Without more specific allegations, the question is whether the tech companies’ purchasing an unspecified amount of cobalt from a supply chain originating in DRC mines plausibly demonstrates ‘participation in a venture’ with anyone engaged in forced labour in that supply chain” US Circuit Judge Neomi Rao is quoted by Reuters to have said.

The case marked the first time a suit of that nature was brought against tech companies, holding them responsible for grave labour violations in the Central African country known to produce a third of the world’s cobalt.

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According to UN estimates, more than 40,000 children are working in hazardous conditions in cobalt mines in the Katanga province of the DRC alone.

Sources: Reuters, The Guardian, Africa News

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