Several Malian individuals have sued seven American chocolate companies for abetting and supporting illegal child labor in Côte D’Ivoire.
The plaintiffs are former child slaves who were trafficked from Mali to harvest cocoa beans in Côte D’Ivoire. They escaped the plantation and returned to Mali. As laborers, the children are not paid and are constantly subjected to physical abuse by farmers or traffickers. As there are no laws in Mali to aid the plaintiffs in seeking damages or civil remedies against foreign exporters, they brought their claims under US law, specifically the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and the Alien Torts Statute.
The defendant companies are Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Hershey, Mars, Mondelēz, Nestlé, and Olam. In 2001, they signed an international agreement called the Harkin-Engel Protocol. It is the chocolate industry’s pledge to reduce child labor in Ghana and Côte D’Ivoire. The suit alleges that these companies have been falsely purporting to be forwarding humanitarian initiatives while working with syndicates within Côte D’Ivoire to secretly continue producing cocoa using child labor. The complaint raises statistics from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago showing that the number of enslaved child laborers working in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have gradually increased to reach over 1.56 million, implying the efforts purported to have been made by the defendants were bogus misrepresentation.
” As is demonstrated in this Complaint, forced child labor and the trafficking of child workers in the cocoa sector of Côte d’Ivoire are endemic. There are numerous credible studies and sources that repeatedly confirm this. Most recently, in October 2020, a comprehensive study of child labor in the cocoa sector conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago and funded by the U.S. Department of Labor (hereinafter NORC Study) concluded that 1.56 million child laborers were involved in cocoa production and harvesting in cocoa growing areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana in 2018/19 growing season, and increase of 14 percent, and 1.48 million child laborers engaged in hazardous work during this period.1 This represents an increase in both child labor and children engaged in hazardous work since the 2015 study funded by the Department of Labor. This is 19 years after Defendants admitted child labor was prevalent in their cocoa supply chains and made public commitments to stop it. ”
The suit also states that the companies have violated the International Labour Organization Convention No. 182 that was ratified by the US in 1999. The convention imposes a minimum age requirement and prohibits laborers from working in hazardous conditions. Child laborers are forced to use toxic pesticides and machetes without any protective equipment on a daily basis.
” Defendants have engaged in various schemes to mislead the public by explicitly promising to “phase out” their use of forced child labor and ultimately stop, but the reality is they continue to profit from the labor of millions of children harvesting cocoa for these multinational giants. Mirroring the startling conclusions of the NORC Report, in conducting field work for this case, Plaintiffs’ legal team easily and routinely found children using machetes, applying chemicals and performing other hazardous tasks on cocoa plantations producing for one or more of Defendants. The following are photos of young children, none of whom are Plaintiffs in this case, harvesting cocoa that were taken by Plaintiffs’ research team during their 2017–19 trips to Côte D’Ivoire”
The plaint seeks the following relief:
“193. WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs pray this Court will enter an order: a. Entering judgment in favor of each of the Plaintiffs on all counts of the Complaint; b. Awarding each of the Plaintiffs monetary damages, subject to proof and in an amount to be determined at trial, including but not limited to fees and costs paid, debts incurred, and wages promised but not paid; c. Awarding each of the Plaintiffs consequential damages, including but not limited to the loss of assets and of educational and business opportunities as a result of Defendants’ illegal conduct; d. Awarding each of the Plaintiffs damages for the mental anguish and pain and suffering Plaintiffs experienced as a result of being trafficked and forced to labor against their will; e. Awarding each of the Plaintiffs punitive and exemplary damages; f. Awarding Plaintiffs any and all other damages allowed by law according to proof to be determined at time of trial in this matter; g. Awarding Plaintiffs reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs; h. Awarding all Plaintiffs injunctive relief, disgorgement of all profits resulting from these unfair business practices alleged herein such that restitution is made to the general public; i. Awarding class-wide relief based on the award to the individual Plaintiffs; and j. Awarding such other relief as the Court deems just and equitable. “
International Rights Advocates (IRAdvocates), the organization representing the plaintiffs, has also filed a separate suit under the Alien Torts Statute that grants US courts jurisdiction for claims brought by a foreign national.
See the complaint