A slew of high-tech companies including Apple, Google, and Tesla are being sued by a group of Congolese families whose children allegedly died or were severely injured while mining cobalt that is used to produce lithium-ion batteries found in smartphones and electric cars.
The human rights organization International Rights Advocates filed the suit Sunday in a Washington, D.C. federal court on behalf of 14 families from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Their suit claims that the companies knowingly aided and abetted the “cruel and brutal” use of young children to mine cobalt, which is a key ingredient for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. The other companies named in the suit are Microsoft and Dell.
“The young children mining Defendants’ cobalt are not merely being forced to work full-time, extremely dangerous mining jobs at the expense their educations and futures; they are being regularly maimed and killed by tunnel collapses and other known hazards common to cobalt mining in the DRC,” the complaint alleges.
An attorney for the plaintiffs said the case represents “extreme abuse of innocent children.”
“We will do everything possible to get justice quickly for the children we represent,” Terry Collingsworth, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, in a statement.
“In my 35 years as a human rights lawyer, I’ve never seen such extreme abuse of innocent children on a large scale. This astounding cruelty and greed need to stop.”
Worldwide demand for cobalt is rising due to the ubiquity of smartphones and the growing popularity of electric cars.
The lawsuit notes that Apple, Google, and Tesla, among other companies, obtain their cobalt through a supply chain that includes European industrial giants Glencore, which mines the cobalt in Africa, and Umicore, which processes the cobalt and sells it to tech companies.
Children who work in Congolese mines earn as little as $2 a day. Many have experienced severe physical injuries and fatalities while on the job, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages related to the fatalities and injuries, as well as for mental anguish.
They are also asking the judge to order the tech companies to create a monetary fund dedicated to the medical care of individuals hurt while working in the cobalt mines.