Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to International Rights Advocates, Alphabet, Apple, Dell and Tesla have structured their supply chain oversight procedures in a way which makes them inaccessible to their alleged victims.
Alphabet, Apple, Dell, Tesla, Microsoft exploit child labor to mine cobalt for batteries, human-rights warriors claim
Woke tech giants sued for ‘knowingly benefiting from … the cruel and brutal use of young children’
By Thomas Claburn in San Francisco 16 Dec 2019 at 22:57
Updated Google-parent Alphabet, Apple, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla have been accused of “knowingly benefiting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to mine cobalt,” a key component of the lithium-ion batteries that these companies obtain from suppliers like Glencore, Umicore, and Huayou Cobalt to power their products.
On Sunday, International Rights Advocates, aka IRAdvocates, a Washington, DC-based human-rights advocacy group, filed a complaint [PDF] on behalf of 13 unnamed plaintiffs, each either a minor miner injured in DRC cobalt operations or a relative of a child killed or maimed in a mining-related accident. They’re unnamed not because they’re unknown, the complaint says, but because their lives are at risk for challenging powerful businesses and DRC government officials who benefit from the status quo.
“Plaintiffs and the other child miners producing cobalt for Defendants Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla typically earn US$2-3 dollars per day and, remarkably, in many cases even less than that, as they perform backbreaking and hazardous work that will likely kill or maim them,” the complaint says.
“Rather than taking meaningful action to prevent further deaths and maiming of children in the DRC cobalt mines, Defendants Apple, Alphabet, Dell, and Microsoft and Tesla also claim to have ‘voluntary programs’ to stop themselves from using prohibited child labor and forced labor in their supply chains,” the complaint says.
Apple’s child labor prevention program, the complaint says, is typical in that it relies on letting people anonymously report labor abuses in a situation that makes such reports unlikely.
The program, the complaint says, relies on getting “largely illiterate, desperately poor, and exceedingly vulnerable people to figure out Apple’s complaint mechanism and report supply chain violations when they certainly cannot afford personal computers or iPhones and they do not have internet or cell phone access to connect to the outside world within the context of a violent regime that does not tolerate dissent and an unregulated industry that could retaliate with impunity against any whistleblowers.”
Read more: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/12/16/alphabet_apple_dell_microsoft_tesla/
Cobalt is an essential component of high capacity lithium batteries used in modern electronic equipment, mobile phones, laptops and electric vehicles.
The Democratic Republic of Congo provides a cheap source of Cobalt by exploiting children – sending children into horrific unsafe conditions, where many of them die, either from mine accidents or from exposure to the toxic Cobalt minerals they are mining.
The named companies claim they have procedures in place to try to stamp out this evil. The lawsuit alleges these procedures are an exercise in plausible deniability.
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