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12 Nov 2021

Sebastian Klovig Skelton, Computer Weekly (UK)

USA: Washington DC court dismisses cobalt mining deaths’ case against five major technology companies

"Mining deaths lawsuit against major tech companies dismissed", 5 Nov 2021

A US district court judge has dismissed the legal case brought against five major technology companies over the cobalt mining deaths of Congolese children, finding there is not a strong enough causal relationship between the firms’ conduct and the miners’ injuries.

The lawsuit against Alphabet, Apple, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla was originally 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 – and subsequently benefiting from – forced labour practices in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The lawsuit marked the first legal challenge of its kind against a technology company, many of which rely on their cobalt supply chains to power products such as electric cars, smartphones and laptops.

As many as 11 of the children sustained a variety of injuries, including smashed limbs and broken spines, while five others were killed by tunnel collapses or falling into unprotected mining shafts.

[The Judge noted that the complaint had the following flaws:] ‘[t]he plaintiffs must have standing to bring their claims, but here they do not: the harm they allege is not traceable to any defendant. Plaintiffs have also failed to adequately plead a violation of the [Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act] TVPRA or any of the common-law torts they pursue.’

‘Even then, it is not obvious that the civil-remedy portion of the TVPRA applies extraterritorially – a fatal fact, as the alleged violations took place far from this country’s shores.’

According to an International Rights Advocates press release, Nichols’ ruling breaks with “an enormous and unanimous body of precedent” by finding that the TVPRA does not apply extraterritorially to civil claims….

[The plaintiffs plan to appeal].

Part of the following timelines

USA: Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft & Tesla face lawsuit over forced child labour in DRC cobalt mines

Lawsuit against Apple, Google, Tesla, and others (re child labour, DRC)