The firm brought a class action suit against Nestlé last week in Massachusetts, accusing the KitKat owner of allegedly failing to disclose its chocolate brands may contain cocoa from child or slave labor.
A Californian court dismissed similar suits brought by Hagens Berman against Nestlé, Mars and Hershey in 2016.
Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, told ConfectioneryNews: “We filed suit against the biggest players in our California cases and intend to bring additional suits in Massachusetts federal court against Mars and Hershey’s.”
Nestlé said last week class action lawsuits were not the way to solve such a complex issue and said the suit against it was a “carbon copy” of Hagen Berman’s dismissed California lawsuits from 2016.
“While this suit contains new state consumer laws, our California cases are pending on appeal, and we believe the lower court decisions will be overturned,” said Berman.
Hershey: 75% certified cocoa
Jeff Beckman, director of corporate communications at Hershey, said the Reese’s maker was committed to ethical sourcing and said the firm has zero tolerance for illegal practices.
“We are now sourcing more than 75% of our cocoa for our products around the world from certified and sustainable sources verified by independent authorities and will be at 100% by 2020.
“Certification includes strict regulations for cocoa farms, including prohibiting illegal and forced child labor in accordance with International Labour Organization conventions,” he said.
ConfectioneryNews contacted Mars, but the Snickers maker declined to comment.
Harkin Engel promises
Hagen Berman said it expects chocolate companies to disclose child and slave labor in their supply chains until it has been eradicated.
Steve Berman said: “In 2001, the chocolate industry – including Nestlé – agreed to the Harkin-Engel Protocol and promised to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the Ivory Coast by 2005.
“Nestlé, and the other signatories, promised to work ‘wholeheartedly… to fulfill the letter and spirit of this Protocol, and to do so in accordance with the deadlines prescribed herein.’
“However, the industry broke this promise repeatedly in a series of follow-up statements which postponed their deadline to act to 2008, to 2010, and now to 2020.”
Legal action for public awareness
Asked if its lawsuits may deter chocolate companies acknowledging there is a major problem and hamper efforts to tackle the issue, Hagens said: “If these companies are already hiding the issue, we see no harm in shining light on it to stop this ongoing atrocity.
“We believe in legal action and public awareness as tools of the people to stop injustices, and we can point to our decades-long track record of cases to prove success," he said.