Mars, Nestlé and Hershey face fresh cocoa child labor class action lawsuits

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Lawsuit comes soon after Tulane University found over 2m children engaged in worst forms of child labor Ghana in Côte d’Ivoire in 2013/14 cocoa season, a 18% increase from 2008/09
Lawsuit comes soon after Tulane University found over 2m children engaged in worst forms of child labor Ghana in Côte d’Ivoire in 2013/14 cocoa season, a 18% increase from 2008/09

Related tags Cocoa supply chain Chocolate Côte d’ivoire Nestlé

Three class action lawsuits brought in California allege Mars, Nestlé and Hershey use child labor to produce their best-selling chocolate brands. The firms say they are tackling the issue and will fight the cases.

Consumer rights law firm Hagens Berman alleges​ the companies have violated Californian law, by failing to disclose that suppliers in Côte d’Ivoire rely on child laborers to procure cocoa.

It has brought the cases on behalf of private consumers Elaine McCoy, Laura Dana, Robert Hodson who say they would not have purchased the firm’s chocolate products if they knew they were produced through child and slave labor.

The law firm claims major brands by Nestlé, Mars and Hershey’s are affected such as Reese’s, Kit Kat, M&M’s, MilkyWay and Butterfinger.

Industry pledges to combat child labor

Child Labour in cocoa growing communities.

Read about other commitments from the three chocolate giants by clicking the links below:

Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation System
Fair Labor Association (FLA) cocoa supply chain evaluations
Commitment to source 100% certified cocoa by 2020
Commitment to source 100% certified cocoa by 2020
World Cocoa Foundation
CocoaAction​ (Nestlé, Mars and Hershey)

Nestlé: Issue cannot be addressed through lawsuits like this

Nestlé told ConfectioneryNews it would contest the case. “Identifying and eradicating child labor in Ivory Coast’s supply chain calls for proactive and multi-stakeholder efforts over time,”​ said a company spokesperson. “The issue cannot be properly addressed through lawsuits such as the one just filed in California.”

The spokesperson said child labor had no place in Nestlé’s cocoa supply chain and said the company was taking steps to eliminate it by assessing individual cases and tackling the root causes.

Nestlé – which posted CHF 7bn ($7bn) in 2014 chocolate sales - has committed to investing CHF 110m ($113m) over ten years (2009-2019) through its Nestlé Cocoa Plan​ to enable farmers to run profitable farms and improve social conditions. Around 25% of Nestlé’s cocoa supply is covered by the Cocoa Plan.

Mars: Child labor is ‘abhorrent’ and ‘complex’

Mars said in a statement that it could not comment on pending legal matters, but was committed to improving cocoa farmer livelihoods to combat the worst forms of child labor and trafficking in the cocoa supply chain.

“We share the widely held view that child labor and trafficking is abhorrent and rooted in complex economic, political and social issues. We are committed to being part of the solution,”​ it said.

In 2009, Mars committed to sourcing only certified cocoa by 2020. As part of its Vision for Change program, it said it had built 16 Cocoa Development Centers and 52 Cocoa Village Centers in Côte d’Ivoire.

Hershey: Allegations are not new

Hershey’s head of corporate communication Jeff Beckman told this site: “The allegations in the lawsuit are not new and reflect long-term challenges in cocoa-growing countries that many stakeholders, including NGOs, companies in the cocoa supply chain and the US Government have been working diligently together to address for a number of years.”

He said poverty was at the heart of issue and said Hershey had been involved in industry-wide efforts such as the World Cocoa Foundation’s CocoaAction​ to improve livelihoods and social conditions in cocoa growing communities.

Hershey, which posted $847m in net income in 2014, said it was contributing to overall industry efforts to invest more than $400m in West African cocoa communities by 2020.

Allegations of the lawsuit

The lawsuit alleges over 1.1m children in Côte d’Ivoire were engaged in the most common Worst Forms of Child Labor in 2013/14, up 39% from 2008/09 levels. That work – which the lawsuit claims is performed to make Mars, Hershey and Nestlé chocolate - includes lifting heavy loads, working with dangerous tools and exposure to toxic chemicals.

A study published by Tulane University​ in July found 2.03m children in cocoa production in Ghana in Côte d’Ivoire were engaged in hazardous work, up 18% from 2008/09. 

Hagens Berman’s suits also claim children are trafficked into Côte d’Ivoire from other countries and sold to plantation owners by brokers and smugglers before being forced to work under conditions of physical violence without pay.

Nestlé, Cargill and ADM are currently facing a separate lawsuit brought by three Malian former child slaves​ in 2005. The suit accuses the companies of aiding and abetting child slavery in Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa market. Nestlé, Cargill and ADM this week called on the Supreme Court to overturn an earlier ruling that said companies could be sued for labor abuses outside the US under the Alien Tort Statute. The case continues.


Hodsdon v. Mars, Inc. et al
Case No.: 3:15-cv-04450

McCoy v. Nestle USA, Inc et al
Case No.: 3:15-cv-04451

Dana v. The Hershey Company et al
Case No.: 3:15-cv-04451

All cases filed September 28 2015

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No longer a consumer

Posted by Kia tyan,

Really Mars? In regards to your new snickers slogans of sleepy, rebellious, cranky ect. I am appalled . Isn't there enough negativity in today's world? Let's try excited, motivated, happy, delightful, blessed,successful? Seriously a disappointment. Who ever come up with this advertisement slogan concept must have had a terrible week, thus coming up with this presentation. And for it to be accepted and printed? Smh goodness gracious.

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Everybody should take seriously now.

Posted by GeraldEdwards,

It is high time for all of us to think over child labor. Unless and until child labor law is followed strictly this situation is not going to be controlled. I have read a very nice article at where the writer told about the miserable condition of children due to child labor.

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Screw these companies..

Posted by Fatima uzair,

It makes me regret all of the chocolate bars i have ever eaten and have taken pleasure in something that was the cause of such suffering for the children...screw these companies..I hope they go bankrupt

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