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Nestlé, Cargill and ADM cocoa child slavery lawsuit dismissed

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By Oliver Nieburg+

Last updated on 17-Mar-2017 at 16:32 GMT2017-03-17T16:32:26Z

Claims by alleged former child slaves in West Africa did not 'touch and concern' the US with sufficient force. ©iStock/NiroDesign
Claims by alleged former child slaves in West Africa did not 'touch and concern' the US with sufficient force. ©iStock/NiroDesign

A district court in California has dismissed a 12-year lawsuit accusing Nestlé, ADM and Cargill of aiding and abetting child slavery in West Africa.

The claimants plan to appeal the decision.

The suit was brought in 2005 by alleged former child slaves, who claimed to have been trafficked from Mali to Côte D’Ivoire in the 1990s and forced to cultivate cocoa.

The case was previously dismissed in 2008, but an appeal court overturned the ruling on a point of law in 2014 and the claimants revised their complaint.

Failed to ‘touch and concern’ the US

US district judge Stephen V. Wilson decided on March 2, 2017, that the complaint “seeks an impermissible extraterritorial application of the Alien Tort Statute” and dismissed the case.

The Alien Tort Statute means companies can be sued in the US for actions outside the country, but only when some conduct “touches and concerns” the US with sufficient force.

The court said the companies’ decision-making, funding and lobbying efforts in the US were not enough to touch and concern the US.

Wilson dismissed the suit and said the claimants could not amend their complaint.

Claimants to appeal

But International Rights Advocates and other co-counsel for the claimants, told us it would appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit.

"Judge Wilson's decision, which states that business conduct such as the provision of unrestricted funds to those committing slavery cannot be illegal, directly contradicts not only international law but also the Ninth Circuit's prior decision in this case,” Catherine Sweetser, a lawyer for Schonbrun Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP, which is representing the claimants said.

“The Ninth Circuit has made clear that knowingly contributing to the enslavement of others for profit is an international crime whether committed by individuals or corporations,” she added.

Nestlé: Suit targeting organizations trying to fight forced labor

Edie Burge, corporate communications for Nestlé USA, told us the company was pleased with the decision.

“Forced child labor is unacceptable and has no place in our supply chain,” she said.

“We have explicit policies against it and are working with other stakeholders to combat this global social problem. Regrettably, in bringing such lawsuits, the plaintiffs’ class action lawyers are targeting the very organizations trying to fight forced child labor.”

A Cargill spokesperson told us the company had always maintained the lawsuit was “without merit”.

“Cargill remains committed to our Cocoa Promise - a global initiative launched in 2012 focused on sustainable cocoa production and improving the livelihoods of cocoa farmers and communities.

“While Cargill does not own or operate cocoa plantations, we are partnering across the cocoa supply chain to help tackle child labor and improve working practices. We do not accept the use of forced child labor in any of our operations," they said.

ConfectioneryNews has contacted ADM and is awaiting a response.

Nestlé Cocoa Plan covers 34% of cocoa supply

Nestlé is running a child labor monitoring and remediation system (CLRMS) in Côte D’Ivoire, covering part of its supply, under its sustainability initiative, the Nestlé Cocoa Plan.

The CLMRS began in 2012 and by the end of 2015, the system covered 40 cooperatives and 26,000 cocoa farmers.

Nestlé’s implementing partner, the International Cocoa Imitative (ICI), is assisting 4,680 children found to be involved in hazardous activities through the Nestlé’s CLMRS pilot since 2012.

Nestlé has pledged to source 230,000 MT of cocoa through the Nestlé Cocoa Plan by 2020, which would account for around 56% of its current annual volumes .

Today, the company sources 34% of its supply (140,993 MT) through the Nestlé Cocoa Plan.

Cargill's CLMRS pilot

Cargill partnered with ICI last month to incorporate its CLMRS into the Cargill Cocoa Promise.

The CLRMS will be piloted across eight farmer cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire reaching nearly 7,000 cocoa farming households and may eventually be scaled up through the program.

A third of Cargill’s cocoa volumes were from certified sources in 2015 and it expects sustainable volumes will reach 45% by 2018.

Case: John Doe I, et al. v. Nestle S.A., et al.
U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles), March 2, 2017

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