In a 3-0 decision on Tuesday, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found five American tech companies—Apple, Alphabet/Google, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla—not liable for participating in forced labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The companies named in the 2022 suit 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.” The court decision held that the companies had an “ordinary buyer-seller transaction” with producers in the African country. The mining companies in the Congo are not under the jurisdiction of US courts and could not be named in the suit.

Human rights groups have documented abuses including forceful evictions, threats and intimidations, the burning of homes that injured residents, and child labor, among other violations. The legal question seems to be the extent to which the tech companies were aware of or involved in the abuses.

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The US Court of Appeals found Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla not liable for participating in forced labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
(AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam, File)

In 2022, Congo exported nearly $6 billion in cobalt, an essential resource in electronic devices and batteries. The mineral is also used in semiconductors for computers and phones, as well as electric vehicle batteries.

In their 2022 impact report, Tesla detailed their plan to ethically source the mineral: “Direct sourcing from mining and refining companies allows us to engage in environmental and social issues in local contexts—instead of having to rely on companies that typically sit between EV manufacturers and mining.”

The US is a leading importer of Cobalt, receiving 9,600 tons in 2023. However, China imports about 12.5 times that volume.

Days ago, the Google (a subsidiary of Alphabet) developer conference was protested by demonstrators criticizing their involvement with the Israeli military.

The five companies have a combined stock market value of around $8.8 trillion as of Friday, representing a little over 16 percent of the value of all publicly traded US companies.

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