World’s biggest chocolate factories are being sued for child slave labour on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast, the Guardian reported. Eight young adults claim they were used as slave labour while children and accuse the corporations of aiding and abetting the illegal enslavement of “thousands” of children on cocoa farms in their supply chain.
Nestle, Cargill, Barry Callebaut, Mars, Olam, Hershey and Mondelez have been named as defendants in a lawsuit filed in Washington DC by human rights firm International Rights Advocates (IRA) on behalf of eight former child slaves.
According to a 2020 study done by NORC at the University of Chicago and funded by the US Department of Labor concluded that 1.56 million child laborers were working in cocoa growing areas of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.
This is not the first time chocolate companies have been sued for using child labour. According to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Nestle and Hershey were sued for not putting the use of child labour labels on their products.
In 2019 a federal judge in Boston dismissed two proposed class action lawsuits by consumers alleging Nestle USA Inc and The Hershey Co had failed to disclose child labour practices on their chocolate products.
The judge said that while it was “beyond dispute” that the use of child and slave labor was widespread at cocoa plants in the Ivory Coast, the Massachusetts consumers filing the lawsuits failed to show the companies deceived them.
In the recent suit filed by the eight plaintiffs, who are now young adults that are seeking damages for forced labour and further compensation for unjust enrichment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“The case filed today is based primarily on the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”). This law allows victims of trafficking and forced labor to sue companies that participate in a “venture” and benefit from the trafficking or forced labor. The named Defendant companies have been cooperating in a venture for decades as they collaborate in a scheme to continue using child slaves while jointly promoting bogus programs they falsely claim are solving their child labor problem. They benefit by continuing to profit from selling cheap cocoa harvested by child slaves, including the eight Plaintiffs who filed this case,”
It is the first time that a class action of this kind has been filed against the cocoa industry in a US court. A central allegation of the lawsuit is that the defendants, despite not owning the cocoa farms in question, “knowingly profits” from the illegal work of children.
According to submissions, the defendants contracted suppliers who were able to provide lower prices than if they had employed adult workers with protective equipment.
According to Nestle’s website, the company said child labor is simply unnaceptable and goes against everything they stand for. Nestle works with 700,000 farmers worldwide directly and indirectly. If they receive reports of child labor they claim to investigate the allegations and take strong action.
Nestle said that no supplier should employ children under 15 or those under the completion age for compulsory education whichever is higher. The company also said that they are working through Nestle Cocoa Plan to tackle various issues. They are aware of child labor in cocoa farms and have introduced a Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS) in 2012. Hershey Co is also working with CLMRS.
Hershey’s statement on child slave labor claims on their website is a long list of “understanding child labor in the cocoa industry” followed by a definition of what constitutes as slave labour or cultural appropriate child labour.
“As part of its commitment to eliminate child labor, Hershey has implemented a Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System. As of 2019, our CLMRS found no evidence of forced child labor in Hershey’s cocoa supply chain,” Hershey’s statement on forced child labor.
The case filed against the chocolate companies documents that the defendants are responsible for developing the entire cocoa production system of Ivory Coast. As key participants in this venture it is claimed they either knew or should have known about the “systemic” use of child labour.
The case is being brought under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017. IRA is currently involved in a separate complaint filed under the Alien Tort Statute against Nestle and Cargill.
According to the IRA advocates, during field work for the case, the plaintiffs’ legal team say they routinely found children using machetes, applying chemicals and undertaking other hazardous tasks on cocoa plantations.
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