Lessons from Cobalt in the Congo: Human Rights Governance as Legal Risk

This article, co-written by Jonathan Drimmer and Yousuf Aftab, was originally published on CorpGov.

On 15 December 2019, a group of Congolese plaintiffs filed a class action under the U.S. Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”), seeking damages from multiple technology and automotive companies, for allegedly “knowingly benefiting” from forced child labor in their cobalt supply chains. The case vividly underscores the rapid growth of corporate legal exposure for alleged human rights abuses across global value chains. Perhaps more significantly, the case highlights a widening rift between legal and voluntary standards related to global human rights risk management. The implications of this interplay for effective corporate strategy are significant. This article provides an overview of the emerging tensions and suggests some practical steps companies can take to tame them.