U.S. court shields tech giants, ignoring child labor abuse

U.S. court shields tech giants, ignoring child labor abuse in cobalt supply chains

  • Published on
    March 6, 2024
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  • Category:
    Law & Policy, Supply Chain
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A recent U.S. court ruling found America’s biggest tech companies, Apple, Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google), Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla cannot be held responsible for child labor found in their cobalt supply chains. The court stated that the companies had an “ordinary buyer-seller transaction” with their suppliers in the DRC. This 3-0 decision is a setback for advocacy groups looking to hold big businesses accountable for modern slavery found in their supply chains.

Documented “grievous human rights abuses”

Cobalt is a critical mineral in the manufacture of rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and electronic devices and the DRC has over 70% of the world’s cobalt reserves. Recently, the demand for cobalt has grown exponentially as countries try to make a green transition and become carbon neutral.

Reuters reports that according to the complaint:

“Companies ‘deliberately obscured’ their dependence on child labor, including many children pressured into work by hunger and extreme poverty, to ensure their growing need for the metal would be met.”

The plaintiffs include four former miners and legal representatives of child miners who lost their lives or suffered major injuries while mining cobalt in the DRC. ABC News reports that the plaintiffs accused the 5 tech giants of “knowingly benefitting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children in the DRC to mine cobalt.” Moreover, they claim that the defendants “know and have known for a significant period of time” about the multiple types and well-documented human rights violations in the cobalt mining supply chain of the DRC.

“Far from finished” in seeking supply chain accountability

The ruling stated that many actors in the cobalt supply chain perpetuated labor trafficking and abuse, from labor brokers to the DRC government. However, the court found that issuing an injunction to these 5 companies would not stop child labor from entering the supply chain as the injunction would not hold the direct perpetrators of child labor and abuse accountable. Contrary to the court’s opinion, advocacy groups and the plaintiffs feel absolving the companies sends the wrong message.

Terry Collingsworth, a lawyer for the plaintiffs stated:

“(this decision provides) a strong incentive to avoid any transparency with their suppliers, even as they promise the public they have ‘zero tolerance’ policies against child labor.”

Despite the ruling, Collingsworth said they were “far from finished seeking accountability.” When asked for comment, Dell released a statement saying it was committed to upholding the human rights of workers throughout its supply chain and did not knowingly source products made with child labor. Google had no comment and Apple, Microsoft, Tesla remained silent. In solidarity, Freedom United stands with the plaintiffs in accusing the five companies of joining exploitative and abusive cobalt suppliers in a “forced labor” venture and in seeing them as complicit in the crimes through the purchase of child labor tainted cobalt.

We need accountability for human rights abuses

Freedom United stands beside the plaintiffs in this case asking for tech giants to ensure slavery-free supply chains. Too often private and public sectors are not held accountable for the human rights abuses in their supply chains. Sign our petition in support of strong, mandatory human rights due diligence legislation in the U.S. Help make it mandatory to enact preventative measures, conduct robust risk analyses, and face punishments for failing to prevent all human rights violations—including human trafficking, exploitative child labor, and forced labor—in supply chains.


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4 months ago

For too long the only morality that corporations really have really considered is to make money for their shareholders, who can enjoy freedom from liability for the corporation’s actions as well as its financial debts. Time to bring in laws that sheet home responsibility for immoral and unethical behaviour by the company to the shareholders. Start with the requirement to publish the names of all shareholders benefiting from exploiting kids.

Laura Holland
Laura Holland
4 months ago

It’s shocking after all the lessons learned about slavery that the law STILL protects abusers in 2024.

4 months ago

Weil der Biden gewiss von diesen großen Unternehmen laufend etwas großes bekommt

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