Cobalt, Siddharth Kara, Congo discussed on As It Happens from CBC Radio
In a lot of electronic devices is there's a rechargeable lithium lithium ion battery and an essential part of that battery is cobalt about two thirds of the world's cobalt supply comes from from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That's according to Siddharth Kara. WHO's been looking into conditions in the mines that country for years now? His research is the foundation of a class action lawsuit and the defendants named in the suit are some companies. You'll recognize apple. Microsoft Dell Tesla and Google Parent Parent Company Alphabet the suit alleges. These companies are quote knowingly benefitting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children in DRC to mind cobalt unquote. We reached siddharth. Kara in Los Angeles California Siddharth. has anyone ever tried this before suing doing it. Tech giant on behalf of children working in mines note this is a landmark case. No one has ever. At least prior to December sixteenth twenty nineteen tried to sue the largest ten companies in the world on behalf of the children in the Congo who mind their cobalt. Can you tell us some of the stories you. You have heard some of the things that you have found out about these children who are mining cobalt in the DRC. Well the research I've done in the DRC. In the cobalt sector in particular has yielded some of the most heartbreaking appalling and utterly unimaginable levels of exploitation and suffering of any sector that I've researched and almost two decades of research into slavery and child labour the peasant population and the children in particular are eking out a sub human existence stint caked and toxic filth and grime as they mind for the cobol that is used in. Every Lithium Ion rechargeable battery we in the planet and I think the worst stories I heard and I heard far too many of these involved young young young children and young men who would addict tunnels uh to find the larger cobalt deposits. Some of these up to a hundred feet deep And then these tunnels just would collapse and bury alive everyone inside and you were actually there doing your research at a time when one of these tunnels collapsed on a bunch of people including children's that right that is correct. Yes Carol it's it's probably one of the most Haunting and painful days of of all my research I was doing research near Lake. Malo which is Not Not too far outside of the city of Louisi- and Documenting some children when we received word that a tunnel had collapsed. Barely one hundred meters from where I was standing and and we rushed to the site It had already been blocked off by Congolese military family members were swarming in swooning and howling off with terror for any word of survivors and It didn't take long Before we received word that there were sixty three people in that tunnel and sixty three people buried alive that day did children who are working not just children. But the what. You're focused on here. These kids kids. And how much money do they actually make from working these cobalt mines. Well children Even the adults barely Eke Kowt somewhere between eighty cents and maybe two dollars a day depending on the kind of work that they're doing obviously the youngest children are in the very least amount. And when you you add to that the context that they're producing this cobalt that's using the gadget sold by companies that are worth hundreds of billions dollars if not more than a trillion dollars Run by executives world billionaires that complete degrading and debasing amount of wealth elfin income that is shared at the bottom of the chain by the top is unconscionable it's unacceptable it's completely indecent and that's the remedy above all that I'm after I with my research and this lawsuit in particular fix the conditions on the ground and pay. These people decently as you. I know from your other research in abusive child. Labor practices that it's the hardest thing to do with the kind of suit like this is to prove that the companies themselves elves are are connected to the abuse of child labor practices that you can actually prove that the cobalt that his mind by the children that you're talking about is actually ending up in the supply chain of products made by Apple Microsoft. Dell Tesla is is there evidence that that exact cobalt Obama's ending up in their supply chain. Well we would not have filed a lawsuit unless we did not have definitive evidence that these children are plaintiffs and thousands of other children. L. Dron and Poor people in the Congo where mining and suffering cobol at mining areas linked directly to the supply chains of the largest tekken auto makers in the world you see two thirds of the global supply of cobalt comes from the Congo. So already in right there you cannot avoid Congolese cobol then asking you. Is it possible that these companies can claim that you can't prove that they're actually linked to the cobalt. Cobalt comes from other kinds of mining rights. So can you put. This is going to be the most difficult thing. I would imagine that right. Well it it. Certainly the supply chain is Is Opaque It is complex but the plaintiffs all were injured and killed at mines. Owned by companies that have been publicly disclosed as sellers of cobalt two are defendants. One of those companies is a mining company. Called Glencore Glencore has put out a a statement to say that quote it does not tolerate any form of child forced or compulsory Labor. What you say to them? Well I say words are all find then good but what you tolerate and what you say you tolerate and what's actually happening on. The ground are two different things and I would encourage The people that Glencore for To take this seriously to work constructively on solving this problem it's it's been all too easy for these companies to proclaim there's zero your tolerance policies and then continue business. As usual. There are children. There are peasants being injured and being killed on sites. They A on every day. That is a fact and that is a fact. They need to come to terms with and to and to address in an honest and constructive fashion. How much more would it cost them to actually be paying these labors a the wages living wages or or or putting in safe Labor abor practices for the children and the workers in these minds? How much more would it cost for them to buy that? Cobalt perhaps the only tragedy greater than the criminal destruction direction of the environment and the lives of the people of the Congo by these companies is the fact that it would be a rounding error on their income statements. To fix the problem. It would not take much at all by way of resources or attention to sit down and genuinely Linley and constructively and permanently. Bring Decency Dignity Safety and security to the people and the communities in the Congo where they're cobalt is mind. Sit House we'll leave it. There will be following this story. Thanks so much thank you. That was at hearth. Kara in Los Angeles California. He's an expert witness in a new lawsuit against a number of big tech companies. He's also an adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School. We'll have more on that story on our webpage at CBC DOT CA slash Aih.