Apple among companies sued over 'brutal' child labor

Posted:
in General Discussion edited December 2019
A class suit representing multiple plaintiffs from the Democratic Republic of Congo has been filed against Apple, Google, Tesla and others. It claims tech companies have knowingly exploited underage labor in local mining for cobalt, used in lithium-ion batteries.

Lithion-ion batteries like this inside an iPhone use cobalt.
Lithion-ion batteries like this inside an iPhone use cobalt.


Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla have been named in a lawsuit alleging the exploitation of underage labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In each case, the companies are accused of knowing that the cobalt they buy to use in their battery technologies was originally mined by young children.

"The young children mining Defendants' cobalt are not merely being forced to work full-time, extremely dangerous mining jobs at the expense [of] their educations and futures," says the suit, "they are being regularly maimed and killed by tunnel collapses and other known hazards common to cobalt mining in the DRC."

"Cobalt is a key component of every rechargeable lithium-ion battery in all of the gadgets made by Defendants and all other tech and electric car companies in the world," it continues, "that has brought on the latest wave of cruel exploitation fueled by greed, corruption and indifference to a population of powerless, starving Congolese people."

The suit was filed in the US District of Columbia by Terrence Collingsworth of International Rights Advocates on behalf of both multiple specific plaintiffs and others similarly affected.

Saying that the plaintiffs expect to add other companies to the case following further research, the suit claims that these firms have all used a euphemism to facilitate the underage work.

"[The workers] are officially referred to as 'artisanal' miners to dress up the fact that this means they are working in a large informal sector of people, including young children, who go to the areas where cobalt is found and use primitive tools to dig and tunnel for cobalt without any safety equipment and without any structural support for the tunnels," it says.

The full suit (linked below) details multiple cases of injuries and fatalities that it says are common in the work.

"Miners are regularly maimed or killed when a tunnel collapses, and frequently, the bodies of those trapped in the darkness of rubble are never recovered."

The suit seeks a trial by jury and ultimately damages and costs to the miners. It also wants the companies to fund "appropriate medical care" for the plaintives, "and clean up the environmental impacts."

The cobalt mines in the court filing are owned by Glencore, and a spokesperson from the company has told The Guardian that it denies using such labor.

"Glencore supports and respects human rights in a manner consistent with the universal declaration of human rights," said the spokesperson. "Glencore's production of cobalt in the DRC is a by-product of our industrial copper production. Glencore's operations in the DRC do not purchase or process any artisanally mined ore."

"Glencore does not tolerate any form of child, forced, or compulsory labour," the spokesperson continued.

Apple has not publicly commented on the suit, filed today, but it has previously been accused of similar activities.

In 2016, Amnesty International claimed that a range of firms including Apple, Samsung, Sony and Microsoft, were buying cobalt from producers who mined it using these underage people.

At the time, Apple responded that it was unable to determine the origin of the cobalt that it used.

"Underage labour is never tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards," Apple then said in a statement to the BBC. "We are currently evaluating dozens of different materials, including cobalt, in order to identify labour and environmental risks as well as opportunities for Apple to bring about effective, scalable and sustainable change."

Congo Suit by Mikey Campbell on Scribd

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 55
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,177member
    I don't know whether including Google is valid or not. For Google's part they've acknowledged the serious child labor problem in the Congo and since at least 2016 have been monetarily assisting the effort to eradicate this issue in the mines there. 
    https://sustainability.google/projects/children-out-of-mining/

    edited December 2019 muthuk_vanalingamchemengin1
  • Reply 2 of 55
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 2,546member
    If this guy Terrence Collingsworth is so cared of younger people working and making living to feed themselves and family than he should give his own money to them. If he is lawyer than must not be making enough living.
  • Reply 3 of 55
    Why not sue Congo government for failing to protect their young citizens?
    macseekerpat412danhwatto_cobracoolfactorjony0
  • Reply 4 of 55
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 5,005member
    viclauyyc said:
    Why not sue Congo government for failing to protect their young citizens?
    Because there is no money in that.

    Or sue the mine owners, or go after the end users because they will not give up their cheap electronics.

    Why didn't the last US administration add lithium and cobalt to the list of conflict mineral list coming out the Congo. This is nothing new for the Congo.
    edited December 2019 watto_cobraPanamaniakdysamoriacoolfactorjony0
  • Reply 5 of 55
    The problem seems to start in the country the cobalt is being mined, then with the companies buying the cobalt (battery suppliers).  Going up the chain to companies that don’t make the devices (just design and sell them) is really going after the wrong people.

    Next, is the lawsuit about money? How much? And where does it go, if they win the lawsuit?  Somehow I doubt it gets back to the exploited children.
    watto_cobraPanamaniakdysamoriacornchip
  • Reply 6 of 55
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,317member
    gatorguy said:
    I don't know whether including Google is valid or not. For Google's part they've acknowledged the serious child labor problem in the Congo and since at least 2016 have been monetarily assisting the effort to eradicate this issue in the mines there. 
    https://sustainability.google/projects/children-out-of-mining/

    But including Apple is valid?
    watto_cobramwhiteStrangeDays
  • Reply 7 of 55
    maestro64 said:
    viclauyyc said:
    Why not sue Congo government for failing to protect their young citizens?
    Because there is no money in that.

    Or sue the mine owners, or go after the end users because they will not give up their cheap electronics.

    Why didn't the last US administration add lithium and cobalt to the list of conflict mineral list coming out the Congo. This is nothing new for the Congo.

    If Apple is liable because they purchase cobalt for LiPo batteries, shouldn’t every person who owns a device powered by a LiPo battery be similarly liable. While we’re at it, extend that same liability to the countries that allow the import of said LiPo batteries, whether it be in finished product or as a component.
    StrangeDayscoolfactor
  • Reply 8 of 55
    fred1fred1 Posts: 834member
    “At the time, Apple responded that it was unable to determine the origin of the cobalt that it used.”

    If they really haven’t tried to find out since, it means that either they don’t want to know the answer, or don’t care. I presume the former, though the most likely thing is that they do know the answer and have decided to ignore it, for financial reasons of course. 
    beowulfschmidtrazorpitdysamoriachemengin1cornchip
  • Reply 9 of 55
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,177member
    slurpy said:
    gatorguy said:
    I don't know whether including Google is valid or not. For Google's part they've acknowledged the serious child labor problem in the Congo and since at least 2016 have been monetarily assisting the effort to eradicate this issue in the mines there. 
    https://sustainability.google/projects/children-out-of-mining/

    But including Apple is valid?
    Probably not but Apple's response as reported in the AI article sounds more hands-off, as in "we don't know". 
    chemengin1
  • Reply 10 of 55
    The companies actually digging the cobalt out of the ground include Glencore (UK-based mining conglomerate) and a Chinese company. The cobalt is then sold to a Brussels-based company and then sold on to manufacturers. Apple and Google etc. are actually third in line...
    Now abusive practices are abusive practices but Apple is probably not responsible here any more than BAE Systems or the many 'defence' industries in the US can be sued for the killing done with the products they manufacture. Although the case would probably be stronger there - lithium batteries do have a 'peaceful' application whereas a Cruise missile or a military jet have little use outside the military whose core business is fighting and, inevitably, killing.
    Bizarrely, Glencore's website talks a lot about 'transparency' and 'responsible sourcing'. Its almost as if you couldn't trust them ...
    fotoformatdysamoriaStrangeDaysviclauyyccornchip
  • Reply 11 of 55
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 1,734member
    It will be very hard to prove that these companies knowingly did this. If, as in the case of Apple, they have made good faith efforts to not use materials from sources that do exploit, that will probably get them off the hook. 
  • Reply 12 of 55
    fred1 said:
    “At the time, Apple responded that it was unable to determine the origin of the cobalt that it used.”

    If they really haven’t tried to find out since, it means that either they don’t want to know the answer, or don’t care. I presume the former, though the most likely thing is that they do know the answer and have decided to ignore it, for financial reasons of course. 
    Specifically since this point they trace cobalt to the source. It's all in their sustainability report.
    razorpitdysamoria
  • Reply 13 of 55
    There is a large problem with child labor and exploitive labor practices in many parts of the world and it extends far beyond Apple or high technology companies or the mining of cobalt.

    There are expensive shoes, shirts, and other clothing sold in the US that is made in Vietnam by child labor working 12 hour shifts in factories without air conditioning fo wages well under $1 an hour. That simply should not be.
    dysamoriazoetmb
  • Reply 14 of 55
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,475member
    9to5Mac has a discussion thread/poll going asking the question what political position or line would Apple have to cross to make you stop buying their products.
    cornchip
  • Reply 15 of 55
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,177member
    fred1 said:
    “At the time, Apple responded that it was unable to determine the origin of the cobalt that it used.”

    If they really haven’t tried to find out since, it means that either they don’t want to know the answer, or don’t care. I presume the former, though the most likely thing is that they do know the answer and have decided to ignore it, for financial reasons of course. 
    Specifically since this point they trace cobalt to the source. It's all in their sustainability report.
    Is it?

    I see where they are committing themselves to future recycling of minerals, and including cobalt.
    I also found where they had paused purchases of cobalt from the DRC on a temporary basis in 2017 while the sourcing was confirmed. They also said they were negotiating to purchase cobalt directly from mine owners themselves in 2017/18. I don't see anything about the outcome of those plans being reported. They do file annually (per SEC regulations?) on conflict minerals and sourcing, but cobalt is not a conflict mineral (gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten are). 

    I could be missing Apple's mention of the current status so please do link the source. In any event it's obvious Apple does understand the Congo problem coupled with Apple's need for a reliable and extensive source of cobalt for their products and has at least considered some solutions.
    edited December 2019 dysamoria
  • Reply 16 of 55
    razorpitrazorpit Posts: 1,796member
    lkrupp said:
    9to5Mac has a discussion thread/poll going asking the question what political position or line would Apple have to cross to make you stop buying their products.
    Better vote they way they want you to or else they'll shadow ban you.  :D
    mtlion2020
  • Reply 17 of 55
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,177member
    The companies actually digging the cobalt out of the ground include Glencore (UK-based mining conglomerate) and a Chinese company. The cobalt is then sold to a Brussels-based company and then sold on to manufacturers. Apple and Google etc. are actually third in line...
    Now abusive practices are abusive practices but Apple is probably not responsible here any more than BAE Systems or the many 'defence' industries in the US can be sued for the killing done with the products they manufacture. Although the case would probably be stronger there - lithium batteries do have a 'peaceful' application whereas a Cruise missile or a military jet have little use outside the military whose core business is fighting and, inevitably, killing.
    Bizarrely, Glencore's website talks a lot about 'transparency' and 'responsible sourcing'. Its almost as if you couldn't trust them ...
    Apple may not be third in line, they may be first. I don't see a followup to this 2018 story.
    https://qz.com/africa/1212246/apple-to-buy-cobalt-from-congo-miners-for-iphones-electric-cars/
    chemengin1
  • Reply 18 of 55
    It's so sad that children are still made to work
    StrangeDaysdrdavid
  • Reply 19 of 55
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 5,005member
    It's so sad that children are still made to work
    Like kids on family run US Farms?
  • Reply 20 of 55
    rain22rain22 Posts: 132member
    maestro64 said:
    It's so sad that children are still made to work
    Like kids on family run US Farms?
    No, not like kids on family run farms. 
    Holy shit man... 
    gatorguyspice-boydysamoriaStrangeDaysdrdavidcoolfactorzoetmbCarnage
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