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Companies Behaving Badly Part 6: Largest Food Maker Accused of Child Slavery

As part of a weeklong series, the personal injury attorneys of Chicago’s Levin & Perconti have been highlighting the list of companies named by the American Association for Justice (AAJ) as having the “Worst Corporate Conduct of 2018.” These companies have each engaged in behaviors that have emotionally and physically harmed patients, clients, customers, employees, and young female student athletes.

Today, we’re focusing on the alleged human rights violations committed by Nestlé USA.

A group of former child slaves are forcing Nestlé USA to acknowledge and make amends for their role in not only allowing, but allegedly encouraging child slavery at cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast of Africa. The Ivory Coast, or the Côte d’Ivoire, supplies the majority of the nation’s cocoa and is known for allowing child labor in order to sell mass amounts of cheap cocoa to the world’s chocolate manufacturers.

Read on to find out how Nestle has gotten rich by the worst means possible: at the expense of children.

Child Slaves Caught up in More Than a Decade Long Court Battle
The former slaves, kidnapped from Mali and forced to work as many as 14 hours a day in Ivory Coast cocoa fields that supplied to Nestlé, originally sued Nestlé USA, Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. and Cargill Inc in 2005. Archer-Daniels-Midland was dismissed from the case in 2016.

On two separate occasions, a Los Angeles district court has thrown out the case because the court has ruled that the plaintiffs were unable to provide evidence to meet the standards required under the Alien Tort Statute. The statute requires foreigners to supply proof that a U.S. company or entity engaged in actions that violate the law of nations or a treaty of the United States. Refusing to give up, attorneys for the plaintiffs have pushed the case through various appeals until it landed in a California federal appeals court.

In October 2018, federal judges in the 9th Circuit in Pasadena unanimously ruled that the former child slaves had supplied enough detail about Nestlé’s alleged conduct to meet the standards required under Alien Tort Statue. The plaintiffs can now proceed in pursuing their case against Nestlé USA and Cargill Inc. 

Among the allegations made by the plaintiffs against Nestlé & Cargill:

  • Nestlé USA executives visited their cocoa suppliers at their plantations in the Ivory Coast and witnessed the working conditions.
  • Nestlé USA executives paid stipends to cocoa farmers that owned slaves, essentially amounting to “kickbacks” for keeping labor costs low by employing children.
  • Nestlé USA provided technological assistance to farmers that owned slaves in order to help boost their operations and productivity.

Nestlé and Cargill have both denied the allegations. In a statement released following the October 2018 ruling to allow the case to move forward, Nestlé said “Regrettably, in bringing such lawsuits, the plaintiffs’ class action lawyers are targeting the very organizations trying to fight forced labor.”

Nestlé has been signed onto Harkin-Engel Protocol since 2001, a pact in which companies using cocoa agree to stop child labor practices. Although Nestlé agreed to cease using cocoa from plantations that rely on child labor by 2015, they now say they likely will not be able to do so until at least 2020. In order to stop child labor, companies must either willingly reduce their revenue by paying more for labor charge customers  or charge more for chocolate products and pay more to cocoa producers.

Until Nestlé and other guilty chocolate-manufacturers begin taking real, identifiable steps to end child labor and slavery, American consumers should seek out ethical brands and give them their business instead. There’s no excuse for wealth when its gained by crimes against humanity and especially against children.