Big Tech firms beat lawsuit from child laborers forced to work in cobalt mines

Enlarge / Workers at a cobalt mine in the Mwenga territory of South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on July 14, 2023. (credit: Getty Images | Anadolu )

Apple and other major tech companies don’t have to compensate victims of forced child labor that provided cobalt for the lithium-ion batteries used in many electronic devices, a US appeals court ruled. The lawsuit filed by former miners from the Democratic Republic of the Congo alleged that Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla violated a trafficking law that makes it illegal to participate in a “venture” that engages in forced labor.

“The plaintiffs allege the technology companies participated in a venture with their cobalt suppliers by purchasing the metal through the global supply chain,” the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit noted in its ruling issued yesterday.

A US District Court previously dismissed the lawsuit, and a panel of three appeals court judges unanimously affirmed the dismissal yesterday. “Purchasing an unspecified amount of cobalt through the global supply chain is not ‘participation in a venture’ within the meaning of the TVPRA [Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008],” the ruling said. “We therefore affirm the district court’s dismissal of the complaint.”

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