Cocoa child labor lawsuits against Mars and Hershey filed
Consumer rights legal firm Hagens Berman initiated legal action against Nestlé earlier this month. It alleged the confectioner failed to inform consumers cocoa in its chocolate may come from child or slave labor.
It told ConfectioneryNews at the time it also intended to sue Hershey and Mars.
Consumer Danell Tomasella –who also brought the lawsuit Nestlé – filed two separate class action complaints against Mars and Hershey in Massachusetts district court on Monday (February 26).
Earlier lawsuits against Nestlé USA, Mars and Hershey dismissed
Law firm Hagen Berman previously represented private consumers Elaine McCoy (against Nestlé USA), Laura Dana (against Hershey) and Robert Hodson (versus Mars) in lawsuits intiated in September 2015. The suits alleged companies had failed to disclose cocoa in some chocolate brands may come from slave labor. A district court in California threw out the suits in 2016. The judge said it was not “sound policy” to compel manufacturers to disclose certain facts on packaging. “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.
‘Failed to inform’ at point-of-sale
“Like Nestle, Mars and Hershey’s have failed to take action on this issue, despite clear knowledge of their support of the use of child and slave labor, and have also failed to inform consumers at point-of-sale that their purchases are supporting this supply chain linked directly to atrocious human rights violations,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman.
The suits allege Mars and Hershey have violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, which states “unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful”.
Mars: ‘Progress has been far too slow’
A Mars Wrigley Confectionery US spokesperson told ConfectioneryNews: “While we don’t comment on pending litigation, we believe that the worst forms of child labor have no place in the future of sustainable cocoa.”
They said child labor continues to be a challenge in West Africa’s cocoa sector.
“Mars has been working to address this challenge both on our own and through collaboration across sectors for years, and yet our view is that progress has been far too slow."
The lawsuits against Mars and Hershey allege the chocolate industry repeatedly broke promises made in 2005 in the Harkin-Engel Protocol to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in Côte d’Ivoire by 2005.
The deadline was postponed to 2008, to 2010, and now to 2020, according to the complaint.
Mars’ spokesperson said: “While this is a complex issue with numerous drivers, we believe it can and must be addressed. We must identify and activate new and innovative strategies, partnerships and programs as we work across government, industry and civil society to make progress.”
Hershey points to certified volumes
Jeff Beckman, director of corporate communications at Hershey, said the Reese’s maker stood by its earlier comments to ConfectioneryNews.
“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 told us earlier this month.
Danell Tomasella v The Hershey Company
Case No. 1:18-cv-10360
Danell Tomasella v Mars Inc. and Mars Chocolate North America
Case No. 1:18-cv-10359