Children as young as six are digging for cobalt in the Congo. The essential element in the manufacture of lithium ion rechargeable batteries, cobalt is yet another of the “strategic” minerals uniquely found in Central Africa. The continued production of electric vehicles by Tesla and other companies, and all other electronic devices, depend on the cobalt supply chains that originate with Congo mining.
Action to prevent the mining process’ funding of armed conflict in eastern Congo has recently been superseded by legal action opposing children’s involvement in cobalt mining in the country’s southern provinces. Last December, the U.S. based International Rights Advocates (IRA) filed a class action lawsuit against Apple, Alphabet (Google), Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla for complicity in forced child labor in Congo. Plaintiffs in the suit are 14 “guardians of children killed in tunnel or wall collapses while mining cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo (“DRC”) or children who were maimed in such accidents”. The lead attorney in the case, and Executive Director of the IRA organization stated, “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”.
Also on the legal team is Siddarth Kara, a Harvard lecturer in government and public health whose research in 2018 provided ample evidence for filing the lawsuit. After touring cobalt mining sites, buying stations and first stage refining complexes, Kara estimated 35,000 children dig for the cobalt bearing rocks for wages of slightly over $1 per day. In her September 2018 article in The Guardian she introduces us to the life of 15 year old Elodie.
Elodie spends her days with her 2 month old son strapped to her back. Both breathe the noxious brown air while she fills a sack with the heterogenite rock containing cobalt. The work day ends with her washing the rock in nearby Lake Malo before she receives around 65 cents for the rocks of a lower grade ore. After both her parents died from their “industrial” mining of cobalt, Elodie feeds her baby and herself with her earnings.
Explaining her support for the lawsuit against a few of the world’s most profitable corporations, Professor Kara stated, “this lawsuit represents the culmination of several years of research into the horrific conditions of cobalt mining in the DRC…… I hope our efforts are worthy of the courageous families who shared their immeasurable torment with us, and that justice and decency will triumph over the pursuit of profit at any cost.” Another volunteer on the lawsuit’s IRA legal team is Congolese national, Dr. Dr. Roger-Claude Liwanga. Dr. Liwanga expressed his pleasure with the suit’s filing, “This is the beginning of the end of impunity for those who have been economically benefiting from child labor in the DRC’s mining industry. He continued with, “DRC children also have an inherent and inalienable right to be protected from economic exploitation.”
To urge one or more of the companies, defendants in the lawsuit, to acknowledge responsibility and ensure improvement of conditions in mining cobalt in Congo , find various options here:
For Prof. Siddarth Kara’s original article in The Guardian newspaper go to https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/oct/12/phone-misery-children-congo-cobalt-mines-drc