Major chocolate manufacturers including Nestlé, Mars and Mondelēz International have been accused of profiting from child slavery in a US lawsuit lodged on behalf of several former child labourers.
Nestlé, Mars, Mondelēz, Cargill, Barry Callebaut, Olam and Hershey have been named as defendants in the lawsuit, which has been filed in Washington DC, US by the human rights organisation International Rights Advocates (IRA).
The legal action has been launched on behalf of eight former child workers from Mali, who claim they were forced to work without pay on cocoa plantations in Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) for ‘one or more of the defendant companies’.
The lawsuit is based primarily on the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, and one of the central allegations of the lawsuit is that the defendants ‘knowingly profited’ from the illegal work of children – though they did not directly own the plantations in question.
The eight plaintiffs are seeking damages for alleged forced labour and further compensation for unjust enrichment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A statement from IRA alleges that the issue of child labour in the cocoa industry is intensifying: “In 2001, they (the defendants) signed the Harkin-Engle Protocol in which they explicitly promised consumers and regulators they would stop using child labour by 2005. Instead, they have given themselves numerous unilateral extensions of time and now claim that by 2025 they will reduce by 70% their reliance on child labour.
“Rather than make progress, their use of child labour is actually getting worse. In late 2020, a study by NORC at the University of Chicago and funded by the US Department of Labor concluded that 1.56 million child labourers were working in cocoa-growing areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana in the 2018/19 growing season, an increase of 14% since a 2015 study, and 1.48 million child labourers engaged in hazardous work during this period.”
Responding to the allegations, cocoa manufacturer Cargill told The Guardian: “We are aware of the filing and while we cannot comment on specifics of this case right now, [the company wants] to reinforce we have no tolerance for child labour in cocoa production. Children belong in school. They deserve safe living conditions and access to good nutrition.”
In an additional statement also provided to The Guardian, Nestlé said that the lawsuit “does not advance the shared goal of ending child labour in the cocoa industry” and added, “child labour 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 labour within the cocoa supply chain and addressing its root causes as part of the Nestlé Cocoa Plan and through collaborative efforts.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2021
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