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US tech giants absolved in cobalt child labour case

A man enters one of the tunnels dug with shovels in the Shinkolobwe Cobalt mine, 35km from the town of Likasi, in South Eastern, Democratic Republic of Congo, April 10, 2004   -  
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SCHALK VAN ZUYDAM/AP2004

Mine

A US court on Tuesday absolved five major technology companies accused of aiding the use of child labour in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the case filed by former child miners and their representatives, Google parent company Alphabet, Apple, Dell Technologies, Microsoft and Tesla stood accused of facilitating child labour in their supply chains for cobalt. 

The metal is used to make lithium-ion batteries that are widely used in electronics.

But in a 3-0 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sided with the tech giants, arguing that the companies only maintained a commercial relationship with their suppliers and that they had no power to stop the use of child labour.

The plaintiffs said that the companies were aware of the use of child labour in cobalt mines but did not act for fear of disrupting the supply of the metal.

Congo is the world's biggest producer of cobalt. A lot of the metal is extracted by artisanal miners who employ child labour and where safety is not observed.

More than 40 000 children are working in hazardous conditions in cobalt mines in the Katanga province alone, according to the UN.