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Article

9 Oct 2020

Author:
Sebastian Klovig Skelton, ComputerWeekly.com

Major tech companies respond to lawsuit over child labour in cobalt mines, argue that global supply chains do not fall under the scope of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act

"Major tech companies respond to lawsuit over mining deaths", 9 October 2020.

Five major technology companies named in a lawsuit over the mining deaths of Congolese children have filed a joint motion to dismiss the case, claiming that the “expansive theories alleged in the complaint are not supported by law”.

The lawsuit against Alphabet, Apple, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla was filed in Washington DC in December 2019 by human rights group International Rights Advocates on behalf of 14 families, who accused the technology firms of knowingly aiding and abetting...forced labour practices in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)...in a motion to dismiss filed on 25 August 2020, the companies contend that, under definitions contained in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), “an entire global supply chain is not a ‘venture’”.

It added: “The plain meaning of the word ‘venture’ under the TVPRA… requires more than simply being a part of a global supply chain. Indeed, if the law were otherwise, any manufacturer or consumer of products that contain cobalt supplied by Glencore, Umicore or Huayou Cobalt would be part of an unlawful ‘venture’ and subject to potential enforcement, including potential criminal enforcement.”

The companies further claim that the maimed and dead child miners were not “forced” into labour under definitions in the same Act, 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.

In a third and final substantive argument, the companies also 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, for example, is insufficient” to prove they knew about the violations that had injured the plaintiffs...Despite claiming not to have the “requisite knowledge”, however, the five tech companies also claim that “each defendant has established robust due diligence practices in accordance with guidance from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] and requires its suppliers to comply with codes of conduct as a condition of doing business with the company”...

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