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Hershey, Nestle, and Cargill win the dismissal of a claim of child slavery in the United States

Charlie Brooks

Jun 29, 2022 11:06

Tuesday, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. dismissed a case brought by eight Malians claiming child slavery on Ivory Coast cocoa plantations against Hershey Co (NYSE:HSY), Nestle SA (SIX:NESN), Cargill Inc, and others.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich determined that the proposed class action plaintiffs lacked legal standing to sue because they failed to prove a "traceable nexus" between the seven defendant companies and the individual farms where the plaintiffs worked.

She added that the plaintiffs did not adequately explain the role of intermediaries in the cocoa supply chain, and that the companies did not oversee actions in "free zones" where 70 to 80 percent of cocoa is farmed.

Mali and Ivory Coast share a border in West Africa.

The plaintiffs claimed they were trafficked as children after being approached by strangers who promised them employment for which they would be compensated, but did not pay them, threatened them with starvation if they did not work, and forced them to live in squalor.

Their attorney, Terry Collingsworth, said that the plaintiffs plan to file an appeal to "compel the businesses to keep their agreements and put an end to this dreadful system they have created."

Other defendants included Mars Inc, Mondelez International Inc (NASDAQ:MDLZ), Barry Callebaut AG, and Olam International Ltd.

In court filings, the seven defendants said that they "strongly abhor the practice of forced labor" and that they were addressing non-forced child labor in cocoa supply chains.

However, they contended that the plaintiffs' too broad legal theory may hold too many parties liable for forced child labor, including consumers and merchants who would benefit from lower prices.

In accordance with the Reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the plaintiffs filed suit.

The Supreme Court of the United States rejected a similar case brought by six Malians against Cargill and Nestle under the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 in June of last year.

This was the most recent in a line of judgments denying access to federal courts based on human rights breaches occurring outside the United States.

Coubaly et al. v. Cargill Inc. et al., U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, case number 21-00386.