A legal complaint was filed against Tesla Inc, Apple Inc, Alphabet Inc, Microsoft Corp and Dell Technologies Inc., on behalf of 14 families from Congo on Sunday by International Rights Advocates, a U.S.-based human rights non-profit organisation.
The five largest tech companies in the world have been accused of being complicit in the death of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who are forced to mine cobalt, a metal used to make electronic devices, in the landmark lawsuit.
The companies were part of a system of forced labour that the families claimed led to the death and serious injury of their children, it said.
It marked the first time the tech industry jointly has faced legal action over the source of its cobalt.
Images in the court documents, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., showed children with disfigured or missing limbs.
Six of the 14 children in the case were killed in tunnel collapses, and the others suffered life-altering injuries, including paralysis, it said.
“These companies – the richest companies in the world, these fancy gadget-making companies – have allowed children to be maimed and killed to get their cheap cobalt,” Terrence Collingsworth, an attorney representing the families, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Cobalt is essential in making rechargeable lithium batteries used in millions of products sold by the tech industry.
More than half of the world’s cobalt is produced in Congo.
Global demand for the metal is expected to increase at 7% to 13% annually over the next decade, according to a 2018 study by the European Commission.
The lawsuit said the children, some as young as 6 years old, were forced by their families’ extreme poverty to leave school and work in cobalt mining owned by the British mining company Glencore. Glencore has previously been accused of using child labour.
Some children were paid as little as $1.50 per day, working 6 days a week, it said.
Tesla, Apple, Google, Microsoft did not immediately respond for comment.
The legal complaint argued that the companies all have the ability to overhaul their cobalt supply chains to ensure safer conditions. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)