Eight children who claim they were used as slave labour on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast have launched legal action against the world’s biggest chocolate companies. They accuse the corporations of aiding and abetting the illegal enslavement of “thousands” of children on cocoa farms in their supply chains. Nestlé, Cargill, Barry Callebaut, Mars, Olam, Hershey and Mondelēz have been named as defendants in a lawsuit filed in Washington DC by the human rights firm International Rights Advocates (IRA), on behalf of eight former child slaves who say they were forced to work without pay on cocoa plantations in the west African country.
It is the first time that a class action of this kind has been filed against the cocoa industry in a US court. Citing research by the US state department, the International Labour Organization and Unicef, among others, the court documents allege that the plaintiffs’ experience of child slavery is mirrored by that of thousands of other minors.
Ivory Coast produces about 45% of the global supply of cocoa, a core ingredient in chocolate. The production of cocoa in west Africa has long been linked to human rights abuses, structural poverty, low pay and child labour.
The plaintiffs were trafficked as children and forced to harvest cocoa in Ivory Coast, the biggest exporter and producer, IRAdvocates said in a statement. The case is based on a law that allows victims to sue companies that participate in a venture that benefits from trafficking and forced labor.
A Nestle spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the company has explicit policies against child labor and is working to end it. The lawsuit “does not advance the shared goal of ending child labor in the cocoa industry.”
Multinational companies have faced dozens of suits accusing them of playing a role in human rights violations, environmental wrongdoing and labor abuses. IRA has also filed a case on behalf of six former child slaves against Nestle and Cargill. The case is still pending and was argued in the Supreme Court on Dec. 1.