Hershey and Nestlé cocoa slave labor lawsuits dismissed

By Oliver Nieburg contact

- Last updated on GMT

Court rules in favor of chocolate makers. Photo: iStock - artisteer
Court rules in favor of chocolate makers. Photo: iStock - artisteer
A district court in California has thrown out lawsuits accusing Hershey and Nestlé of misleading consumers by failing to disclose cocoa in some chocolate brands may come from slave labor.

It follows dismissal of a similar claim against Mars last month.

The class action suits were brought by consumer rights law firm Hagens Berman on behalf of private consumers Elaine McCoy (against Nestlé USA), Laura Dana (against Hershey), Robert Hodson (versus Mars) in September last year,

The suits alleged labeling on brands such as Reese’s, KitKat, M&M’s, and Butterfinger contravened Californian laws by failing to disclose cocoa may have come from slave labor in West Africa

Not for courts to decide what’s on chocolate wrappers, says judge

On Tuesday, chief magistrate judge Joseph C. Spero dismissed the claims against Nestlé and Hershey in the US district court for the Northern district of California.

Following the earlier decision in Hodgson v Mars, he said it was “sound policy”​ not to place duties on manufacturers to disclose certain facts as it was difficult to know what consumers may find material to purchasing decisions.

“There are countless issues that may be legitimately important to many customers, and the courts are not suited to determine which should occupy the limited surface area of a chocolate wrapper,”​ he said in both the Nestlé and Hershey court documents.

Nestlé: Class actions won’t solve the problem

A Nestlé spokesperson told ConfectioneryNews the firm was opposed to all forms of child labor and highlighted the company’s affiliation with the Fair Labor Association (FLA),

“Consumer class actions are not the way to solve such a serious and complex issue as child labor and thus we welcome the Federal District Court’s decision to dismiss the class action filed against Nestlé.

“This dismissal ‘with prejudice’ means that the plaintiff will not be given a chance to amend the complaint and that this case cannot be longer pursued at the trial court level,”​ they said.

The spokesperson added Nestlé had built 42 schools in in Côte D’Ivoire and set up a Child Labor Remediation and Monitoring System (CLMRS) in the country to help identify children at risk in each cocoa community.

“Progress has been made but child labor remains a significant challenge in cocoa production. The underlying causes behind it are complex and its eradication a shared responsibility,”​ they said.

Hershey: ‘An enormous challenge’

Jeff Beckman, director of corporate communications at Hershey, said: We are pleased that the court recognized that this lawsuit had no merit. 

“At Hershey, we do not tolerate unacceptable forms of child labor and remain committed to eliminating it the cocoa-growing regions of West Africa.”  

He said it was an “an enormous challenge” that no single company could address alone. Hershey says it supports large-scale, multi-stakeholder efforts such as the CocoaAction initiative and will continue to accelerate its own programs.

ConfectioneryNews has contacted Hagens Berman for comment.

‘Deplorable’ working conditions

In the Mars decision last month, the court said all facts alleged by the claimants were taken as true, including that: “Children often arrive at these Ivorian farms having been sold to, or kidnapped by, traffickers. The working conditions on the farms are deplorable. Laborers often do not receive pay, sleep in locked quarters, and fear corporal punishment.”

Certified products ‘not at issue'

The lawsuit against Hershey did not cite the firm’s Rainforest Alliance certified products Bliss, Dagoba, and Scharffen Berger. The lawsuit said these brands were produced with “ethically produced cocoa”​ and were “not at issue”.

In an ongoing case​ against Nestlé, ADM and Cargill, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has accepted labor abuses such as the worst forms of child labor, including work with machetes, heavy loads and chemicals, as well as whippings and beatings, exist on Ivorian cocoa farms.

That case, brought by former Malian child slaves in 2005, thwarted attempts for it to be thrown out in the US Supreme Court in January this year.

Steps by chocolate makers

Hershey, Nestlé and Mars have acknowledged cocoa in its supply chains may be procured by slave labor and the worst forms of child labor.

Hershey and Nestlé prohibit child and forced labor in its supplier codes and have taken steps to clean up cocoa supply chains.

Mars and Hershey have committed to 100% certified cocoa by 2020.  Nestlé has pledged to source 150,000 metric tons​ ​of cocoa through its own sustainability program, the Nestlé Cocoa Plan, by 2017. This would represent around 35% of its cocoa supply against estimates in the 2015 Cocoa Barometer​.

Cases

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

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1 comment

A Mars a day helps you work work without pay

Posted by Mike Hunt,

I would like to know what stance the supermarkets are taking on this. They are always banging on about fare trade etc. so why don't they stop selling these items until something is done.

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