Mars, Nestlé And Hershey To Face Landmark Child Slavery Lawsuit
Mars, Nestlé and Hershey are among some of the chocolate companies facing a child slavery lawsuit after eight young adults claimed to have been used for slave labour.
The lawsuit was filed recently on behalf of the eight plaintiffs by human rights firm International Rights Advocates (IRA) in Washington DC.
The world’s biggest chocolate companies – namely Nestlé, Cargill, Barry Callebaut, Mars, Olam, Hershey and Mondelēz – have been accused of aiding and abetting the illegal enslavement of ‘thousands’ of children on cocoa farms in their supply chains.
The plaintiffs, all of whom are originally from Mali, claim they were deceived into being recruited while all under the age of 16. They allege they were then trafficked across the border to cocoa farms in west Africa, where they were forced to work for years with no pay, no travel documents, and no information about how they could get back to their families.
While working long hours, the young adults said they were given little food and were often kept isolated from other workers.
The lawsuit alleges that the chocolate companies ‘knowingly profited’ from the illegal work of the children, despite them not owning the cocoa farms in question. The suppliers contracted by the companies are said to have been able to provide lower prices by using children for labour than if they employed adult workers with proper protective equipment.
They are seeking damages for forced labour as well as further compensation for unjust enrichment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress, The Guardian reports.
One of the young adults who brought the lawsuit is said to have been just 11 years old when a local man in his home town promised him work in Ivory Coast for 25,000 CFA francs (£34) a month.
The court documents allege that the boy then worked for two years without being paid, and that he often applied dangerous pesticides and herbicides without protective clothing.
Another of the plaintiffs reportedly had visible cuts on his hands and arms from machete accidents during the work. He recalled being being constantly bitten by insects and says he was promised payment after the harvest, but it never came.
Court documents state that the child slavery allegedly experienced by the plaintiffs is mirrored by thousands of other minors, with the defendants citing research from the US state department, the International Labour Organization and Unicef as evidence.
The plaintiff’s legal team conducted research for the case and say they routinely found children using machetes, applying chemicals and undertaking other hazardous tasks on cocoa plantations that were producing for at least one of the chocolate companies named as defendants.
The production of cocoa in west Africa has been linked in the past to human rights abuses, structural poverty, low pay and child labour, however this lawsuit marks the first time a class action of this kind has been filed against the cocoa industry in a US court.
The court documents describe the slave labour as a ‘humantiarian disaster’, as well as a cause of ‘long-term mental and physical trauma’.
A number of the chocolate companies have responded to the lawsuit, with Nestlé stating that the filing ‘does not advance the shared goal of ending child labor in the cocoa industry’.
Per The Guardian, the company 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.
The case is being brought under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017.
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