Skip to main content

The small cost to end child mining is not a price Big Tech is willing to pay

When he visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), human rights lawyer Terry Collingsworth said he was presented with a “parade of maimed children” waiting to meet him.


“I’ve been doing human rights work for more than 35 years,” he told Digital Trends. “This was the most shocking thing I’ve ever seen.”

Collingsworth was in DRC to investigate the subject of child labor around the cobalt mines there. Cobalt is a key component of the lithium-ion battery, which is used in our smartphones, computers, and even in certain electric cars — all items that are nearly inextricable from the way we live our lives in developed nations. DRC is the most cobalt-rich nation on Earth, accounting for 60 percent of worldwide production, and Collingsworth said it’s not a secret that children are being exploited, maimed, and killed in these mines.

What would happen, then, if corporations suddenly switched to using more ethically mined resources, even if it meant more expensive products?

According to Collingsworth, not much. He said he’s working with an economist to estimate what the real cost differential would be for companies’ production, but his best professional guess is that there is maybe, at most, $5 worth of cobalt in your average $1,000 iPhone.

“Even if they marked up the price, do you really think they would lose much of their consumer base over an extra $20?” Collingsworth said. “This is a question of, what is the cost of preventing kids from being killed and maimed.”


There’s already, sort of, an answer to that: The Fairphone. Headquartered in The Netherlands, Fairphone’s business model hinges on radical transparency of their supply chain, with a focus on working with fair trade materials and responsible sourcing. The phone itself, while it doesn’t have the color options or some of the sleekness of other smartphones, retails for less than $500, around the same price as the older iPhone models.

Collingsworth has filed a lawsuit against Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla on behalf of 14 children who were severely injured or killed in these mines. He and his organization, International Rights Advocates, are alleging that these companies “are knowingly benefiting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children in Democratic Republic of Congo to mine cobalt.”

“All of these kids already know someone who’s died or been buried in a mine collapse,” Collingsworth said of his trip to DRC. “They’re not in school because they were unable to pay the $6 per month school fees, and they go to work knowing they’re risking their lives.”

At the beginning of 2017, Apple announced it would temporarily stop buying cobalt from the Congo, following a Sky News report of the mining conditions and use of children in the DRC. The suit alleges they never really examined their supply chain.


“Any person who has ever been to this area [where the cobalt mines are], you can just stroll up to these mines, and you see kids climbing all over the place,” Collingsworth said. “Any company that says, ‘Oh, we weren’t aware’ of the use of kids has either never been there, or they’re ignoring what they see.

“Apple is worth a trillion dollars,” Collingsworth added. “They could stand to spend a few hundred thousand to stop maiming and killing kids.”

All of the companies named in the lawsuit except for Dell have not yet responded to a request for comment. Dell, in a statement to Digital Trends, said: “We’re currently investigating these allegations,” and that it works to make sure all of their suppliers uphold the human rights of their workers. “We have never knowingly sourced operations using any form of involuntary labor, fraudulent recruiting practicess or child labor,” the statement said.

Maya Shwayder
I'm a multimedia journalist currently based in New England. I previously worked for DW News/Deutsche Welle as an anchor and…
SWAT team’s Spot robot shot multiple times during standoff
Spot, a robot dog.

A Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot deployed by the Massachusetts State Police (MSP) was shot during a standoff in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

It’s believed to be the first time that the robot helper has taken a bullet during active duty, and it highlights how the machine can help keep law enforcement out of harm’s way during challenging situations.

Read more
Microsoft Edge is slowly becoming the go-to browser for PC gamers
microsoft edge chromium to roll out automatically soon chrome

Microsoft Edge is already jam-packed with features that other web browsers don't have, but a new one might well help your PC run faster while gaming. The default Windows web browser now has the option to limit the amount of RAM it uses, helping you prioritize RAM access to other applications or games. The feature is currently being tested in the Canary version of Microsoft Edge and could roll out to everyone if Microsoft deems it useful enough and gets quality feedback.

Spotted by X (formerly Twitter) user Leopeva64, the setting for this new feature is buried in the System and Performance section of the latest Canary version of Microsoft Edge. It is being rolled out gradually, so not everyone has it yet, but it gives two options for controlling your PC resources.

Read more
How Intel and Microsoft are teaming up to take on Apple
An Intel Meteor Lake system-on-a-chip.

It seems like Apple might need to watch out, because Intel and Microsoft are coming for it after the latter two companies reportedly forged a close partnership during the development of Intel Lunar Lake chips. Lunar Lake refers to Intel's upcoming generation of mobile processors that are aimed specifically at the thin and light segment. While the specs are said to be fairly modest, some signs hint that Lunar Lake may have enough of an advantage to pose a threat to some of the best processors.

Today's round of Intel Lunar Lake leaks comes from Igor's Lab. The system-on-a-chip (SoC), pictured above, is Intel's low-power solution made for thin laptops that's said to be coming out later this year. Curiously, the chips weren't manufactured on Intel's own process, but on TSMC's N3B node. This is an interesting development because Intel typically sticks to its own fabs, and it even plans to sell its manufacturing services to rivals like AMD. This time, however, Intel opted for the N3B node for its compute tile.

Read more