Tesla, Apple accused of aiding child labor in Congo

Children forced to work in Cobalt mines suffer from grave injuries and disfigurement.

Five of the world's largest tech companies have been accused of being complicit in the death of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Allegedly, the children were forced to mine cobalt- a metal used to make telephones and computers, in a landmark lawsuit.

International Rights Advocates, a U.S. based human rights, non-profit, filed a legal complaint on behalf of 14 families from Congo on Sunday, against Tesla Inc, Apple Inc, Alphabet Inc, Microsoft Corp, and Dell Technologies Inc.

The companies were a part of the system of forced labour, which the families claimed led to serious injuries and death of their children, it said.

It is the first time that the tech industries have jointly faced legal action over their sourced cobalt.

Images in the court documents, filed in the U.S. District Court of Washington D.C., presented children with disfigured or missing limbs.

Six of the 14 children in the case were killed in tunnel collapses, and others suffered life-altering injuries, including paralysis, it stated.

"These companies - the richest companies in the world, these fancy gadget-making companies - have forced children to be maimed and killed for their cheap cobalt," Terrence Collingsworth, an attorney representing the families, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Cobalt is an essential element to manufacture rechargeable lithium batteries used in millions of products sold by these tech industries.

More than half of the world's cobalt is produced in Congo.

Global demand for the element is expected to increase by 7 to 13 per cent annually over the next decade, as per a 2018 study by the European Commission.

In response to a comment, Dell emailed that it has "never knowingly sourced operations" using child labour and has initiated an investigation into the allegations.

However, Tesla, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Glencore did not immediately respond.

The lawsuit mentioned that the children, some just six years old, were forced by their families' extreme poverty to leave school and work in cobalt mines, owned by the British mining company- Glencore. Glencore had previously been accused of indulging in child labour.

Some children were paid as little as $1.50 per day, for six days a week, it said.

"Starve or risk their lives to eat. Those are the choices for these people," said Collingsworth.

The legal complaint argued that all the companies have the potential to overhaul their cobalt supply chains in order to ensure safer conditions.

"I've never encountered or documented a more severe asymmetry in the allocation of income between the top and the bottom of the supply chain," said Siddharth Kara, who is a researcher on modern slavery and an expert witness in the case.

"It's this discrimination that makes it perhaps the worst injustice of slavery and child exploitation that I've witnessed in my two decades of research," Kara added.

More than 40 million people have been estimated to be held captive in modern slavery, which includes forced labour and forced marriage, according to Walk Free and the International Labour Organization. 

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