Chocolate multinationals 'enabling enslavement' on cocoa farms: Oxfam

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Oxfam speaks out on Nestlé, ADM and Cargill child slavery case. Photo credit: 10 Campaign
Oxfam speaks out on Nestlé, ADM and Cargill child slavery case. Photo credit: 10 Campaign

Related tags Human rights Law Slavery Us

Multinational chocolate companies are reaping billions in profits by keeping labor costs low, allowing human rights abuses to prosper on cocoa farms, according to an Oxfam campaigner.

Earlier this month, a US appeal court ruled​ that Nestlé, ADM and Cargill could be held to account for aiding and abetting child slavery in Côte D’Ivoire and allowed a US lawsuit to proceed.

The case was brought by three Malian men who were allegedly trafficked as children to Cote D’Ivoire in the 1990s and forced to work unpaid on cocoa farms for 14 hours a day.

‘Enabling enslavement’

“Though Nestlé made strong commitments to reduce child labor in their cocoa supply chains in 2012, multi-national companies and traders have reaped billions in profits from keeping labor costs low. Meanwhile, children such as the plaintiffs in the John Doe case, toil in the fields to harvest the key ingredient in our favorite chocolate bars,”​ said Irit Tamir, senior campaigns and advocacy advisor for Oxfam America, in a blog post​ titled:"You’re enabling enslavement”.

Nestlé previously told this site that it follows and respects international law and it does not tolerate illegal or discriminatory labor practices. Cargill has said they are confident it will eventually prevail in the John Doe case, while ADM has disputed the latest court ruling and called for an ‘en banc’ session, whereby the case would be heard before judges the court.

Is just knowing enough?

Tamir suggested the companies could be liable for aiding and abetting the abuses on cocoa farms.

“Just knowing about the abuses, coupled with the close business connection the farms shared with the defendants and their push to drive up profits regardless of the human toll, may be enough to infer that the corporations “purposefully” assisted other actors to engage in slavery,”​ she said.

“If in fact the defendants are found culpable, this could have a real impact on how wages and working conditions factor into companies’ business models.”

Alien Tort Statute

The Malian men were allowed to bring their case under the US Alien Tort Statute. The legislation allows foreign citizens to seek compensation in US courts for human rights abuses committed outside of the US.

Tamir said that an earlier case (Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.) in 2013 had effectively closed the doors on claims under the Alien Tort Statute. Under the case, Nigerian nationals sued an oil producer for aiding and abetting the Nigerian government in the 1990s to crush a peaceful resistance to oil exploration. However, the claimants’ link to the US was deemed to too tenuous to warrant jurisdiction.

“The human rights community was upset over the Kiobel ruling, as the Alien Tort Statute had served as a rare avenue for foreign victims of corporate human rights abuses to find justice.”

“The John Doe decision suggests that companies can face legal threats from neglecting that responsibility.”

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