A federal judge in Washington, D.C. has dismissed a lawsuit by eight citizens of Mali who sought to hold Hershey Co, Nestle SA, Cargill Inc and others liable for child slavery on Ivory Coast cocoa farms.
U.S. district judge Dabney Friedrich said the plaintiffs in the proposed class action lacked standing to bring a suit because they did not show a traceable connection between the seven defendant companies and the specific plantations where they worked.
She said the plaintiffs did not adequately explain the role of intermediaries in the cocoa supply chain, noting that the companies did not monitor activity in free zones, where about 70% to 80% of the cocoa is produced.
The plaintiffs said they were trafficked as children after being approached by unfamiliar men who promised to pay their labor, but were ultimately not paid for their labor, threatened with starvation if they did not work, and required to live in squalor.
Their lawyer, Terry Collingsworth, said the plaintiffs plan to appeal, hoping to force the companies to keep their promises and end the abhorrent system they have created. The defendants included Mars Inc., Mondelez International Inc., Barry Callebaut AG and Olam International Ltd.
In court papers, the seven defendants said they strongly condemned forced labor and were working to address non-forced child labor in cocoa supply chains.
But they said the plaintiffs' overbroad legal theory could leave too many people liable for forced child labor, including consumers and retailers who might benefit from lower prices.
The plaintiffs had sued under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
In June of last year, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a similar lawsuit by six Malian citizens against Cargill and Nestle, which was brought under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 federal law.
The decision was the latest in a series of rulings that restrict access to federal courts based on human rights abuses outside the country.
Coubaly et al v Cargill Inc et al, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, No.