A multinational commodity trading and mining company is being sued for the death of half a dozen underage workers in Central Africa.
Not-for-profit International Rights Advocates (IRA) is taking legal action against Glencore, Tesla, Apple, Microsoft, Dell and Alphabet for forced labour used to operate the proponent’s cobalt mines, resulting in the workplace deaths of at least six children in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The six children allegedly died from tunnel collapses, while a further eight are claimed to have suffered debilitating injuries, including paralysis. Photographs that IRA submitted as evidence to the US District Court in Washington show children suffering from disfigured or missing limbs.
“These companies, the richest companies in the world … have allowed children to be maimed and killed to get their cheap cobalt,” IRA executive director and attorney Terrence Collingsworth told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Court documents obtained by the foundation show impoverished children as young as 6-years-old were forced to leave school and work six days a week for an equivalent $2.18 (US$1.50) a day.
“Starve or go risk your life to try to eat. Those are the choices for these people,” Collingsworth said.
IRA wants Glencore, Tesla, Apple, Microsoft, Dell and Alphabet to overhaul their cobalt supply chains to provide safer work conditions.
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“I’ve never encountered or documented a more severe asymmetry in the allocation of income between the top of the supply chain and the bottom,” Harvard Kennedy School public policy adjunct lecturer Siddharth Kara said according to the foundation. “It’s that disconnect that makes this perhaps the worst injustice of slavery and child exploitation that I’ve seen in my two decades research.”
More than half of the world’s cobalt is produced in Congo and over 40 million people are estimated to be captive in modern slavery, which includes forced labour and forced marriage, according to Walk Free and the International Labour Organisation.
Glencore did not immediately respond to the foundation’s request for comment.