The US Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit against the domestic confectionery subsidiaries Nestlé and Cargill over slave labor on plantations in Africa, saying US companies could still be held accountable for human rights abuses abroad.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six men from Mali, who as children were smuggled into Ivory Coast for forced labor on cocoa plantations.
The companies, they said, supported the slave trade to ensure low prices for cocoa on world markets. The lawsuit alleges that they were forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day and that they were guarded overnight by armed guards to prevent them from escaping. The salary barely covered their food expenses.
The companies condemned child slavery, but said charges should be brought against traffickers and farmers who keep workers in such conditions.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit with eight votes in favor and one against, saying it could not be based on eighteenth-century law, in which foreigners could in some cases seek damages from U.S. courts, but for offenses committed. in the United States. The plaintiffs were forced into slavery outside the United States, the court noted.
The court ruled that Judge Clarence Thomas wrote that although Nestlé USA and Cargill provided technical and financial resources for the cocoa plantations, there was no evidence that the plaintiffs were forced to work because of business decisions made in the United States.
The judges, however, have not ruled definitively that no lawsuits can be filed against US companies for abuse of labor in overseas supply chains.
Activists who have been fighting against chocolate producers for years because of these accusations reacted disappointed to the verdict.
“Decisions were made based on business calculations, business plans, business aspects, and all of that from the United States,” said Terry Collingsworth, director of International Human Rights Advocates.
He announced a new lawsuit, arguing that many of the decisions Nestlé and Cargill made in the United States paved the way for the exploitation of children in Ivory Coast.
Nestlé USA said in an official statement that it had never used child labor and that it would continue to “work hard” against child labor in the cocoa industry.
About 70 percent of the world’s cocoa reserves are produced in West Africa, and most of it is exported to the United States. The US Department of Labor estimates in a report released last 2020 that about 1.56 million children work on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast and Ghana.