US court absolves top tech companies in Congo's child labor case

The tech giants were found not liable for forced labor in Congo's cobalt mines.

LONDON -- A U.S. court has absolved five of America's biggest tech companies in a case over their alleged support of child labor in cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday

The five tech giants -- Apple; Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google; Dell; Microsoft; and Tesla -- were accused of "knowingly benefiting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children in the Democratic Republic of Congo to mine cobalt" in case documents seen by ABC News.

However, in a 3-0 decision on Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia held that the tech companies could not be held liable, with the court decision stating they did not have anything more than an "ordinary buyer-seller transaction" with suppliers in the DRC.

"Many actors in addition to the cobalt suppliers perpetuate labor trafficking, including labor brokers, other consumers of cobalt, and even the DRC government," the decision read. "Issuing an injunction to the Tech Companies to 'stop the cobalt venture from using forced child labor' would not bind the direct perpetrators of the unlawful labor, who are not before this court."

The case was brought by 16 plaintiffs in December 2022, including four former miners and legal representatives of child miners who lost their lives and suffered major injuries in cobalt mining operations in the DRC.

The defendants were accused of "knowingly benefitting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children in the DRC to mine cobalt," and the case claims that the defendants "know and have known for a significant period of time" about the human rights violations in the DRC's cobalt mining supply chain.

The DRC is one of the world's most mineral-rich nations and the Central African nation is home to over 70% of the world's cobalt reserves.

"Cobalt is a critical mineral," Anneke Van Woudenberg, executive director of Rights and Accountability in Development told ABC News. "Cobalt is used in rechargeable batteries of electric vehicles and electronic gadgets, its demand is growing due to the green transition as we shift to net-zero."

However, human rights organizations have documented "grievous human rights abuses" in the DRC's cobalt supply chain, including the expansion of cobalt and copper mines that have led to forced evictions, calling for more accountability.