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US tech giants sued over cobalt mine child labour deaths

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Daniel (11) carries a bag of cobalt on his back. He works in a mine ferrying sacks of cobalt to a depot. Cobalt is a vital mineral needed for the production of rechargeable batteries. Two thirds of the world supply is located in southern Congo where men, women and children all work. Efforts are being made to stop child labor in the cobalt mines, but they have not been successful. Batteries needed for phones, computers and electric cars have pushed the global demand for Cobalt through the roof. Chinese companies and middlemen have the strongest hold on the market. Tech companies like Apple, Microsoft and Tesla are trying to find a way to access Congolese cobalt in a more humane way with proper accountability. PHOTOGRAPH BY SEBASTIAN MEYER FOR FORTUNE

Five US tech giants including Apple, Microsoft and Google parent Alphabet have been named in a lawsuit over the death of child labourers in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Impoverished but mineral-rich DR Congo is the world’s largest producer of the rare metal, which is crucial for making batteries used in mobile phones and electric vehicles.

The case was lodged Sunday in the name of 14 unidentified victims, who are members of the families of children killed in tunnel collapses, as well as children maimed as they worked.

It lists Apple, Google’s parent company Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla as defendants and was submitted by the International Rights Advocates (IRA) campaign group to a Washington tribunal.

A boom in the technological sector has led to a huge increase in the demand for cobalt, IRA wrote in its statement, adding the tech companies were aware the DR Congo’s mining sector relies on children.

Child miners work for $2-3 (R28 to R34) a day “under Stone Age conditions for paltry wages and at immense personal risk”, it said.

BMW along with German chemical giant BASF and Samsung announced a joint project to ensure “responsible” cobalt mining in DR Congo earlier this year.

The mining industry has said it wants to adopt standards of good governance to improve working conditions.

The London Metal Exchange, the global centre for trading in industrial metals, recently adopted new ethical standards to ensure better traceability of raw materials, including cobalt.

And earlier this year, the World Gold Council issued “Responsible Gold Mining Principles”, although the guidance is non-binding.

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