The U.S. Supreme Court this week rejected an attempt by Nestle and two other companies to toss out a lawsuit that claims the three food companies are liable for child labor abuses at cocoa plantations in Africa’s Ivory Coast.
The court’s decision supports a 2014 federal appeals court ruling which also refused to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed by three anonymous former child slaves from Mali, Reuters reports.
The class-action lawsuit was filed in 2005 in California. It alleges that Nestle, Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Cargill aided and abetted child slavery in their pursuit of cheap Ivory Coast cocoa. The plaintiffs claim the companies offered both financial assistance and technical farming assistance to plantations, even though they knew about the child slaves.
Nestle is a Switzerland-based transnational food and beverage company. Chicago-based Archer Daniels Midland is a global food-processing and commodities-trading company. Cargill is the largest privately held company in the United States, with headquarters in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Its interests include food, agriculture, finance, and industrial products and services around the globe.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the suit was dismissed on several grounds in 2010 by a federal trial judge. But it was revived in 2014, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the suit “raised the inference that the companies put increased revenues ahead of basic human welfare,” the WSJ explains.
Nestle maintains that it’s innocent of any wrongdoing.
“Nestle is committed to following and respecting all international laws and is dedicated to the goal of eradicating child labor from our cocoa supply chain,” the company said.
Paul Hoffman, an attorney for the former child laborers, said in an interview with Law360 that he was “pleased” with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“We and our clients are very pleased that the court is allowing our case to go forward,” Hoffman said.
In 2015, Tulane University published a report on child labor on cocoa plantations in Africa. It found that during the 2013-2014 cocoa harvest season, 2.26 million children were working on cocoa farms in Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
The report also noted that during that same time period, there was an 18 percent increase in the number of children working in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms, meaning a whopping 2.03 million children spend their days – and sometimes nights – toiling away in unsafe working conditions so people across the globe can enjoy a chocolate bar.
Click here to see how the Nestle website addresses questions about child labor in its cocoa supply chains.
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