The on-going and controversial historic lawsuit in the US accusing Nestlé and Cargill of allegedly allowing child slavery to obtain cheap cocoa has taken another twist.
A three-judge 9th Circuit panel at a recent Pasadena hearing has indicated it will keep the eight-year-old case alive. They appeared to agree that the six plaintiffs, identified in the lawsuit only as John Doe, could sue Nestlé and Cargill under the Alien Tort Statute.
The six workers claim they were kidnapped from Mali as children in the 1990s and forced to work on Ivory Coast cocoa plantations for up to 14 hours per day, six days per week. Courthousenews.com reported that circuit Judge Morgan Christen claimed the plaintiffs can sue Nestlé and Cargill under the Alien Tort Statute.
Both Cargill and Nestlé refute the allegations.
A spokesperson for Cargill said: “Since this case was initially filed in 2005, Cargill has maintained that the allegations were without merit. Accordingly, the District Court has dismissed the lawsuit two times, and we are optimistic the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will do the same with this most recent appeal. Cargill prohibits child labor in our operations and we are working actively to combat any such practices in our supply chains.”
When contacted by confectionerynews.com, a Nestle spokesperson said: “We continue to believe the federal district court got it right when it dismissed this case twice, once in 2010 and again last year. Forced child labor is unacceptable and has no place in our supply chain. We have explicit policies against it and are working with other stakeholders to combat this global social problem. Regrettably, in bringing such lawsuits, the plaintiffs’ class action lawyers are targeting the very organizations trying to fight forced labor.”
In March 2017, US District Judge Stephen Wilson’s dismissed the case for failing to allege domestic conduct sufficient to sue under the statute.
In 2014, a divided 9th Circuit reversed in part and held the violation of universal norms may be a basis for an Alien Tort Statute claim against a corporation.
What is Alien Torte Statute?
The Alien Tort Statute (ATS) means companies can be sued in the US for actions outside the country, but only when some conduct “touches and concerns” the US with sufficient force. Alleged former child slaves, who were represented by human rights organization International Rights Advocates, brought the original suit in 2005.
The ruling created a circuit split between the 4th and 9th Circuits and the 2nd and 5th Circuits. The plaintiffs’ lawyers argue Nestle’s and Cargill’s decisions to allegedly aid and abet slavery touch and concern the United States because the decisions to give the farmers money and technical support were made at the defendants’ headquarters in America.
Nestlé and Cargill say the suit is barred because the “focus” of the plaintiffs’ injury is the slavery that occurred in Ivory Coast, not the alleged aiding-and-abetting that occurred in the United States.
In a separate case, courthousenews.com reported that another 9th Circuit panel unanimously ruled chocolatier Mars has no obligation to say on its wrappers that the cocoa it uses may have been the product of child slave labor. The panel in that case found labor practices used to make Mars chocolate aren’t a physical product defect for which California law requires disclosure.