Eight children who claim they were used as slave labour on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast have launched legal action against the world’s biggest chocolate companies. They accuse the corporations of aiding and abetting the illegal enslavement of “thousands” of children on cocoa farms in their supply chains.
Nestlé, Cargill, Barry Callebaut, Mars, Olam, Hershey and Mondelēz have been named as defendants in a lawsuit filed in Washington DC by the human rights firm International Rights Advocates (IRA), on behalf of eight former child slaves who say they were forced to work without pay on cocoa plantations in the west African country.
The plaintiffs, all of whom are originally from Mali and are now young adults, are seeking damages for forced labour and further compensation for unjust enrichment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
It is the first time that a class action of this kind has been filed against the cocoa industry in a US court. Citing research by the US state department, the International Labour Organization and Unicef, among others, the court documents allege that the plaintiffs’ experience of child slavery is mirrored by that of thousands of other minors.
Ivory Coast produces about 45% of the global supply of cocoa, a core ingredient in chocolate. The production of cocoa in west Africa has long been linked to human rights abuses, structural poverty, low pay and child labour.
A central allegation of the lawsuit is that the defendants, despite not owning the cocoa farms in question, “knowingly profited” from the illegal work of children. According to the submissions, the defendants’ contracted suppliers were able to provide lower prices than if they had employed adult workers with proper protective equipment.
Nestlé said that the lawsuit “does not advance the shared goal of ending child labor in the cocoa industry” and added, “child labor is unacceptable and goes against everything we stand for. Nestlé has explicit policies against it and is unwavering in our dedication to ending it. We remain committed to combatting child labor within the cocoa supply chain and addressing its root causes as part of the Nestlé Cocoa Plan and through collaborative efforts.”
Responding to news of the lawsuit, a Mars spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on any possible pending litigation.”
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