Nestlé, Cargill and ADM face child slavery case

Companies say child labor has no place in their supply chains, NGO says the issue is ongoing. Photo Credit:  International Labor Rights Forum

Three Malian men have won the right to bring their civil child slavery case against Nestlé, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) to Californian courts.

The cocoa suppliers and manufacturer are accused of aiding and abetting the luring of the men across the border from Mali to the Ivory Coast in the 1990s, where the then children worked unpaid on cocoa farms which supplied the companies in question. The men will be represented by NGO Global Exchange. 

In December last year, a US appeals court ruled that the corporations could face liability for claims bought under the Alien Tort Statute – a law allowing citizens to seek remedies in US courts for human rights abuses occurring abroad. The case was previously dismissed in 2010 on the grounds that such a claim could not be made against a company.

The companies involved deny the charges and maintain that they are committed to upholding international law. 

Response to ruling

Louis de Schorlemer, corporate communications manager for Cargill, told ConfectioneryNews: “While we are disappointed in the ruling, we believe this to be a temporary setback and are confident that we will ultimately prevail in this suit.”

Photo Credit: International Labor Rights Forum 

He said Cargill is committed to working towards a cocoa supply chain where no children are subject to dangerous or forced working conditions and made reference to its sustainability initiative, Cocoa Promise

Nestlé told ConfectioneryNews that all allegations remained unproven and that no evidence of the alleged aiding and abetting of child slave labor on farms in the Ivory Coast had been produced. Meike Schmidt, corporate spokesperson for the company, said she believed the court was correct in its 2010 dismissal of the case.

She said: “This decision is in no way determinative of the allegations in the case which remain unproven. Nestlé is committed to following and respecting all international laws and does not tolerate illegal or discriminatory labor practices.”

She said that child labor has no place in its supply chain, as outlined in its corporate business principles and supplier code

ADM told ConfectioneryNews that it disagreed with the decision and, together with the other defendants, had petitioned for an en banc review, which would mean the case is heard by all the court judges as opposed to by a panel selected from them. 

A question of responsibility

The alleged victims have now been granted the right to make changes to their case in order to claim the companies had ‘specific intent’ to violate international law. They must also establish that the companies acted in a way that had a substantial effect on the alleged crimes.

The case has thrown up questions surrounding supply chain traceability and responsibility. Development organizations say child trafficking and labor is still rife in the industry, but complex supply chains make it difficult to point the finger.

Photo Credit: 10 Campaign 

Discussing the case with ConfectioneryNews, Friedel Huetz-Adams, commodities specialist for the development NGO Suedwind Institut, said companies should not be able to deflect responsibility. “Until recently companies usually said that they are not responsible for bad labor conditions and low incomes of the farmers. They claimed that they source the cocoa from independent farmers who are responsible for the labour conditions – and that often small traders are between the farmer and the local buying agents of the international companies.” 

He claimed child labor is still rife in countries like the Ivory Coast, referencing a France24 report on trafficked Burkinabé children working on an Ivory Coast cocoa farm in September. 

Estimates of child labor on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and Ghana from organisations like the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), Unicef and Tulane University have varied from 300,000 to one million children between 2007 and 2013.

Director of the ICI, Nick Weatherhill, told Kenyan News24: "For us, whether it be 300 000 or one million, it shows that the phenomenon is prevalent in all the cocoa-growing areas. It exists in every cocoa-growing community."

Carolyn Kitto, lead activist for Stop the Traffik Australia, echoed this, telling us that human trafficking is an ongoing and deep-seated problem in the cocoa industry. 

Related News

The ICI estimates as many as one million children could work in cocoa production in the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Photo credit: Make Chocolate Fair UK

Children and chocolate: The sweet industry's bitter side

Nutrition, health and wellness drive Nestlé forward despite 'challenging' year

Nutrition, health and wellness drive Nestlé forward despite 'challenging' year

12 chocolate giants sign up to 'monumental collaboration between public and private stakeholders'.

Joining the cocoa dots: 12 confectionery titans join CocoaAction strategy

Seafood slavery: Asian slave labour producing prawns for European and US retailers

Seafood slavery: Asian slave labour producing prawns for European and US retailers

Almost 820,000 children in the Ivory Coast and over 997,000 kids in Ghana were found to be working on cocoa-related activities in 2007/2008, according to Tulane University. Photo Credit: 10 Campaign

Hershey child labor lawsuit faces meltdown

The new primary school should work to discourage child labor in the region, says Barry Callebaut

Hershey-funded school should curb child labor, says Barry Callebaut

Almost 820,000 children in the Ivory Coast and over 997,000 kids in Ghana were found to be working on cocoa-related activities in 2007/2008, according to Tulane University

Industry pledges reach $10m on cocoa child labor but ‘job is not done’

Is third party certification the only fair and transparent way to combat child labor in developing countries?

Third party certification only way to combat cocoa child labor, says campaign group

Comments (3)

TÂNIA - 12 Feb 2014 | 12:31

MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE

LETS MAKE THE WORLD A HAPPIER PLACE!

Leilani - 27 Jan 2014 | 10:00

Child Labor

Ignorance of the law is no defense. These companies plead 'ignorance'. I doubt that is possible. They know every dollar down to the penny that they make. The US should be setting examples. Jail them and fine their companies more than a week's income (for them). All the money made should be awarded to the children.

MORE COMMENTS

Submit a comment

Your comment has been saved

Post a comment

Please note that any information that you supply is protected by our Privacy and Cookie Policy. Access to all documents and request for further information are available to all users at no costs, In order to provide you with this free service, William Reed Business Media SAS does share your information with companies that have content on this site. When you access a document or request further information from this site, your information maybe shared with the owners of that document or information.