US Allows Child Slavery Suit Against Nestle, Cargill

Published: 25 October 2018


Man holding cocoa fruit (Photo: Pexels)

By Alex Cooper

A United States appeals court allowed a lawsuit from six former child slaves to be reinstated on Tuesday against the U.S. section of Nestle SA and Cargill Inc. for aiding and perpetuating their captivity on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire).

The companies stand accused of ignoring the child slavery on the farms in order to receive lower prices on the cocoa.

The judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided unanimously that the former child slaves from Mali could proceed with their case regardless of the abuses having happened outside of the U.S.

This followed a dismissal last year of the case due to the court deciding, at the time, that the plaintiffs had not provided evidence showing U.S. conduct being linked to the alleged captivity, Bloomberg reported.

The plaintiffs, the decision said, were former slaves that had been kidnapped and forced to work the fields of a cocoa farm for up to 14 hours a day without being paid. The Ivory Coast is the world’s largest cultivator of cocoa.

“While being forced to work on the cocoa farms, plaintiffs witnessed the beating and torture of other child slaves who attempted to escape,” the court said.

The case stems from over 10 years ago, when the former child slaves sought to hold cocoa-buying businesses responsible for their enslavement and trauma. They sued in 2005, but the case was dismissed in 2016, Reuters reported. It eventually reached the Supreme Court which rejected an attempt by the companies to have the case tossed.

The decision on Tuesday allows the case to continue, but did not decide on the merit of the allegations of child slavery.

“Not content to rely on market forces to keep costs low, defendants [Nestle SA and Cargill Inc.] have taken steps to perpetuate a system built on child slavery to depress labor costs,” the court explained.

They created exclusive buyer/seller relationships, the court continued, with Ivory Coast famers. At one point 19 child slaves from Mali were saved from a farm that worked in such a partnership with Cargill.

The court condemned the actions of the companies, who they say were “well aware that child slave labor is a pervasive problem in the Ivory Coast” and yet “continued to provide financial support and technical farming aid, even though they knew their acts would assist farmers who were using forced child labor, and knew their assistance would facilitate child slavery.”

“The allegations paint a picture of overseas slave labor that defendants perpetuated from headquarters in the United States,” the court said. This was done allegedly through U.S. offices providing payments of personal spending money to the farms where their employees inspected.

Both companies deny the allegations.

In a statement, Nestle said it held specific policies against child slavery and were actively working to eliminate the practice globally.

“Regrettably, in bringing such lawsuits, the plaintiffs’ class action lawyers are targeting the very organizations trying to fight forced labor,” Nestle said, according to Reuters.

Cargill said, according to Bloomberg, “We will not let these legal proceedings deter us from working actively every day to protect human rights, with an unwavering commitment to treating people with dignity and respect in the workplace and the communities where we do business.”

The United Nations estimates that 152 million children are victims of child labor including slavery.