The U.S. Supreme Court previously refused to hear cases against overseas chocolate companies.
Eight children have filed a lawsuit against several of the world’s largest chocolate companies, accusing brands like Nestlé, Hershey and Mars of profiting from slave labor on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast.
According to The Guardian, the lawsuit states that a number of highly profitable, globally recognized brands have supported and facilitated the enslavement of “thousands” of children in the West African nation.
The defendants include Nestlé, Cargill, Barry Callebaut, Olam, Hershey and Mondelēz.
The Guardian notes that the lawsuit was filed in federal court in Washington, DC earlier this week. The child plaintiffs are represented by International Rights Advocates, an organization that promotes litigation against US-based corporations accused of human rights abuses overseas.
While other slavery-related lawsuits have been filed against Hershey and his colleagues, this attempt marks the first time the cocoa industry has been considered in American courts.
The Guardian notes that while all minor plaintiffs are from Mali, they were allegedly kidnapped and forced to work on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast, while 45% of all cocoa is produced worldwide.
On its website, Nestle claims it is near impossible to remove sources of child labor and child slavery from its West African supply chain. Image from Flickr (user: Ton Rulkens) via Wikimedia Commons. (CCA-BY-2.0).
The children’s story of abduction and exploitation is neither unique nor particularly unusual – the lawsuit alleges that thousands of minors from other parts of West Africa have endured similar trials.
In the past, chocolate companies – along with other companies that use cocoa in their products – have protested allegations that they are profiting from slavery. For example, Nestlé says there are strict controls in the supply chain that blacklist local companies that are suspected of using child slavery.
However, these lawsuits allege that even if companies like Hershey and Nestlé do not own or control slave labor plantations, they have “knowingly” benefited from child exploitation.
International Rights Advocates noted on their file that slave labor plantations can supply cocoa at unusually low prices – prices that a company paying adults local wages likely cannot afford.
One of the plaintiffs, according to The Guardian, was only 11 years old when he was promised a job in Ivory Coast. A contractor approached the child and told him he could make about $ 40 a month working on a plantation.
He agreed and was soon transported to the Ivory Coast. However, the boy had to work there for two years without ever getting paid. On the plantation, he often had to deal with pesticides and other dangerous chemicals without safety training or protective equipment.
He, like many of the other plaintiffs, says plantation overseers promised to pay him after the harvest – but the promised payment never came and he was forced to stay there for another season.
The Guardian reported that such abuses are not only “morally repulsive” but also contribute to rampant poverty in Ivory Coast by depressing wages and reducing economic opportunities for skilled adults.
All of the companies named in the lawsuit told The Guardian that they are unaware of potential child abuse in their supply chain and that they are actively and continuously trying to turn down plantations that benefit from it.
Children are suing Nestlé, Mars and Hershey for child slavery in Ivory Coast
Mars, Nestlé and Hershey face child slavery lawsuits in the US