Lawsuit against Apple, Google, Tesla, and others (re child labour, DRC)
Snapshot: In 2019, IRAdvocates, a US-based NGO filed a class action lawsuit against Apple, Google, Tesla, Alphabet, Microsoft, and Dell alleging the corporations profited from child labour in their cobalt supply chains in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Plaintiffs are either guardians of children killed in cobalt mining tunnels or children who were maimed while working in the mines.
IRAdvocates, a US-based NGO, filed a federal class action lawsuit against Apple, Google, Alphabet, Microsoft, Dell, and Tesla. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 14 plaintiffs who are either guardians of children killed in tunnel or walls collapses while mining cobalt in the DRC, or are children who were maimed in such accidents. All plaintiffs are representative of a larger class of unnamed children who have faced similar injuries from mining hazards. All defendants make up a large portion of buyers in the cobalt market. The plaintiffs assert claims for forced child labour in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. They also seek relief based on common law claims of unjust enrichment, negligent supervision, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They request that the Court order the defendants to create a fund to contribute to the appropriate medical care of the plaintiffs and other unnamed children who were injured while mining cobalt.
In their motion to dismiss, the companies contend that under the definitions contained in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), “an entire global supply chain is not a ‘venture’”. The companies further claim that the maimed and dead child miners were not “forced” into labour which they said only encompasses labour that is compelled by direct threats of force or harm from the employer, and not labour that is compelled by other circumstances, such as economic pressure. Finally, the companies claim they did not have “requisite knowledge” of the abuses at the specific mining sites mentioned, and that “knowledge of a general problem in an industry...is insufficient” to prove they knew about the violations that had injured the plaintiffs.
On 15 December 2019, plaintiffs filed a class action in the US District Court for the District of Columbia against Apple, Alphabet, Google, Dell, and Tesla.
On 25 August 2020, the defendants filed a motion in response, denying liability.
On 2 November 2021, the US District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the case, citing lack of standing, and incorrect reliance on the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). The Court noted that "it is not obvious that the civil-remedy portion of the TVPRA applies extraterritorially".
In early February 2022, the plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to dismiss the case. A hearing is expected on 8 December 2022.
Mining deaths lawsuit against major tech companies dismissed, Computer Weekly, 5 Nov 2021
Human rights activist “forced to flee DRC” over child cobalt mining lawsuit, Guardian, 10 Mar 2020
The Mighty Apple, Google,Tesla, Dell, and Microsoft in “the dock”- A look at the child labour lawsuit, 13 Jan 2020, OpinioJuris
Glencore statement in response to IRAdvocates’ lawsuit, Glencore, 17 Dec 2019
US tech giants sued over DRC cobalt mine child labour deaths, Al Jazeera, 17 Dec 2019
Tesla, Apple, among firms accused of aiding child labor in Congo, Reuters, 16 Dec 2019
Apple and Google named in US lawsuit over Congolese child cobalt mining deaths, The Guardian, 16 Dec 2019
IRAdvocates filed forced child labor case against tech giants Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla for aiding and abetting extreme abuse of children mining cobalt in DRC, IRAdvocates, 15 Dec 2019
Is your phone tainted by the misery of the 35,000 children in Congo’s mines?, Siddharth Kara, 12 Oct 2018
Judge Carl J. Nichols' opinion dismissing the case, 2 Nov 2021.
Class complaint for injunctive relief and damages, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 15 Dec 2019