ER Editor: One would think that Black Lives Matter, if sincere, would pounce on this one …
Hershey, Nestlé, Mars and Other Chocolate Makers Named in Child Slavery Class Action Lawsuit
Many people give chocolates as a symbol of love on Valentine’s Day, but for some the popular candy is more bitter than sweet.
A human rights group filed a lawsuit Friday on behalf of eight Malian men who say they were trafficked across the border to the Cote D’Ivoire and forced to harvest cocoa for one or more of seven popular companies, including Mars, Nestlé and Hershey.
“Enough is enough!” IRAdvocates Executive Director Terry Collingsworth said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Allowing the enslavement of African children in 2021 to harvest cocoa for major multinational companies is outrageous and must end.”
The class action lawsuit was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In addition to Nestlé, Hershey and Mars, the lawsuit also names Cargill, Mondelēz, Barry Callebaut and Olam. It marks the first time that a class action lawsuit of this type has been brought against cocoa companies in a U.S. court, The Guardian reported. The eight men, who are now young adults, seek damages for forced labor and compensation for the fact that the companies inflicted emotional harm and improper supervision while getting rich at their expense.
Child labor is a major and ongoing problem for cocoa production in West Africa. NORC at the University of Chicago found that 1.56 million children were harvesting cocoa in Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana during the 2018 and 2019 growing season, up 14 percent from 2015, IRAdvocates said. At the same time, 1.48 million children undertook dangerous tasks while working.
The defendant companies have long pledged to end the use of child slavery in their supply chains, but continually extend their deadlines for meeting this goal. In 2001, they signed the “Harkin-Engle Protocol” promising to end child labor by 2005; more than 15 years later, they are now promising to reduce the use of child labor by 70 percent by 2025.
“By giving themselves this series of extensions, these companies are admitting they ARE using child slaves and will continue to do so until they decide it’s in their interests to stop,” Collingsworth said. “Based on the objective record of twenty years of the failed Harkin-Engle Protocol, these companies will continue to profit from child slavery until they are forced to stop. The purpose of this lawsuit is to force them to stop.”
The plaintiffs tell stories of being recruited in Mali under false pretenses; being trafficked across the border; and then being forced to work on cocoa farms without pay, travel documents or any knowledge of when they would be allowed to leave, The Guardian explained. While the companies named in the lawsuit do not directly own the farms where the children worked, the lawsuit contends that they knowingly benefited from their labor because they chose to contract from growers who could offer lower prices because they did not pay adult wages or provide adequate safety equipment.
The World Cocoa Foundation, to which all of the defendants belong, spoke out against child labor but argued that the responsibility for ending it fell to the government of the Côte d’Ivoire.
“The cocoa and chocolate industry has zero tolerance for any instances of forced labor in the supply chain,” World Cocoa Foundation President Richard Scobey said in a statement reported by Business Insider. “The government of Côte d’Ivoire has a comprehensive legal framework in place to pursue, arrest and bring to justice those who traffic children or adults.”
The individual companies gave similar statements decrying child labor but arguing that the solution involved multiple stakeholders acting together, and not targeted lawsuits. But IRAdvocates sees the lawsuits as a means of forcing companies to actually be a part of the solution.
This is the second lawsuit that IRAdvocates has filed against major chocolate brands over child labor issues. Another, filed against Nestlé and Cargill under the Alien Tort Statute, was argued before the Supreme Court in December of 2020. During the arguments, the companies said they were not liable for child slavery under international law, IRAdvocates said.
“[I]n filing this new case we want these companies to know we will use every possible legal tool available to make them stop abusing child slaves,” Collingsworth said in a statement. “We call upon the companies to work with us [to] solve this problem, rather than spend millions in legal fees to fight an uncontestable fact – the cocoa industry is dependent upon child labor.”
Featured image from EcoWatch
Mars, Nestlé and Hershey to face child slavery lawsuit in US
Chocolate companies are among the defendants named in a lawsuit brought by former child workers in Ivory Coast
OLIVER BALCH for The Guardian
Eight children who claim they were used as slave labour on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast have launched legal action against the world’s biggest chocolate companies. They accuse the corporations of aiding and abetting the illegal enslavement of “thousands” of children on cocoa farms in their supply chains.
Nestlé, Cargill, Barry Callebaut, Mars, Olam, Hershey and Mondelēz have been named as defendants in a lawsuit filed in Washington DC by the human rights firm International Rights Advocates (IRA), on behalf of eight former child slaves who say they were forced to work without pay on cocoa plantations in the west African country.
The plaintiffs, all of whom are originally from Mali and are now young adults, are seeking damages for forced labour and further compensation for unjust enrichment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
It is the first time that a class action of this kind has been filed against the cocoa industry in a US court. Citing research by the US state department, the International Labour Organization and Unicef, among others, the court documents allege that the plaintiffs’ experience of child slavery is mirrored by that of thousands of other minors.
Ivory Coast produces about 45% of the global supply of cocoa, a core ingredient in chocolate. The production of cocoa in west Africa has long been linked to human rights abuses, structural poverty, low pay and child labour.
A central allegation of the lawsuit is that the defendants, despite not owning the cocoa farms in question, “knowingly profited” from the illegal work of children. According to the submissions, the defendants’ contracted suppliers were able to provide lower prices than if they had employed adult workers with proper protective equipment.
The lawsuit also accuses the companies of actively misleading the public in their 2001 promise to “phase out” child labour. The original deadline for achieving the commitment, made as part of the voluntary Harkin-Engel Protocol, was 2005. The World Cocoa Foundation, an industry body to which all the defendants belong, now aims to achieve the target by 2025.
In the claim, all eight plaintiffs describe being recruited in Mali through trickery and deception, before being trafficked across the border to cocoa farms in Ivory Coast. There, they were forced to work – often for several years or more – with no pay, no travel documents and no clear idea of where they were or how to get back to their families.
The court papers allege that the plaintiffs, all of whom were under 16 years old at the time of their recruitment, worked on farms in major cocoa-producing areas of the country. The defendants’ apparent influence in these markets is described as “dominant” by the plaintiffs’ counsel.
The lawsuit claims one plaintiff was only 11 years old when a local man in his home town of Kouroussandougou, Mali, promised him work in Ivory Coast for 25,000 CFA francs (£34) a month. The legal documents allege that the boy worked for two years without ever being paid, often applying pesticides and herbicides without protective clothing.
The documents claim another child named as a plaintiff in the suit had visible cuts on his hands and arms from machete accidents. Speaking of his experience of forced labour between 2009 and 2011, he recalls being constantly bitten by insects. As with most of the plaintiffs, he claims in the lawsuit that he was promised payment after the harvest, but it never came.
Many of the plaintiffs quoted in the court documents report being fed little and working long hours. Often, they claim they were kept alone or isolated from other child workers, who spoke different dialects.
During field work for this case, the plaintiffs’ legal team say that they routinely found children using machetes, applying chemicals and undertaking other hazardous tasks on cocoa plantations that were producing for one or more of the defendants.
As well as being morally repugnant, such abuses against children represent a “humanitarian disaster” as they contribute to Ivory Coast’s ongoing poverty, the court papers state. The widespread use of child slavery is also credited by the plaintiffs for causing “long-term mental and physical trauma”.
The case documentation maintains that the defendants are responsible for developing the entire cocoa production system of Ivory Coast. As key participants in this “venture”, it is claimed that they either knew or should have known about the “systematic” use of child labour.
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