Many of the children named as plaintiffs in the suit described being fed little, working long hours, and often being kept alone or isolated from other child workers.
The world’s biggest chocolate companies are now facing legal action for allegedly aiding and abetting the illegal enslavement of "thousands" of children on cocoa farms in their supply chains. Eight children who claim they were used as slave labor on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast have named Nestlé, Cargill, Barry Callebaut, Mars, Olam, Hershey, and Mondelēz as defendants in a lawsuit filed in Washington DC. According to The Guardian, this is the first time a class action of this kind has been filed against the cocoa industry in a US court.
I wish this was getting national attention. You have eight former child slaves of the Ivory Coast taking on western capitalists. https://t.co/DsPUZokTzn— Charles Preston (@_CharlesPreston) February 13, 2021
The plaintiffs — all of whom are originally from Mali and are now young adults — claim that they were forced to work without pay on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast. The lawsuit filed by the human rights firm International Rights Advocates (IRA) on behalf of the eight former child slaves, reportedly seeks damages for forced labor and further compensation for unjust enrichment, negligent supervision, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Citing research by the US state department, the International Labour Organization, and Unicef among others, the class action alleges that the plaintiffs' experience of child slavery is similar to that of thousands of other minors.
Legal action has been launched against some of world's biggest and most famous chocolate companies by eight childrenhttps://t.co/pHDJHPwsqg— WION (@WIONews) February 13, 2021
The lawsuit alleges that despite not owning the cocoa farms in question, the defendants "knowingly profited" from the illegal work of children. The court documents claim that the defendants' contracted suppliers were able to provide lower prices by putting children to work than if they had employed adult workers with proper protective equipment. The companies have also been called out for actively misleading the public in their 2001 promise to "phase out" child labor as part of the voluntary Harkin-Engel Protocol. Since the original deadline for achieving the commitment by 2005 was not met, the World Cocoa Foundation — an industry body to which all the defendants belong — now aims to achieve the target by 2025.
The world’s chocolate companies missed deadlines to uproot child labor from supply chains in 2005, '08 and '10.— Rachel Leah Siegel (@rachsieg) February 9, 2021
The odds are substantial that a chocolate bar bought in the United States is the product of child labor, as @PeterWhoriskey and I found here: https://t.co/8ZZiVPj9Gi https://t.co/GA6YoHcvtw
In the lawsuit, all eight plaintiffs say that they were recruited in Mali through trickery and deception before being trafficked across the border to cocoa farms in Ivory Coast. They claim that they were forced to work there – often for several years or more – without pay, travel documents, and no clear idea as to where they were or how they could get back to their families. The class action also states that the plaintiffs, all of whom were under 16 years of age at the time of their recruitment, worked on farms in major cocoa-producing areas of the west African country where the defendants allegedly have "dominant" influence.
Cocoa’s child laborers. With the growth of the global economy, Americans have become accustomed to reports of worker and environmental exploitation in faraway places. But in few industries is the evidence of objectionable practices so clear. #ImpactInvesthttps://t.co/J4GAigR0kO pic.twitter.com/bMp8E0iZ6c— Jan Schalkwijk (@Jan_Schalkwijk1) June 12, 2019
As per the court papers, one plaintiff was only 11-years old-when a local man in his hometown of Kouroussandougou, Mali, promised him work in Ivory Coast for $46 (25,000 CFA francs) a month. The boy allegedly worked for two years — often applying pesticides and herbicides without protective clothing — without ever receiving any kind of payment. Another plaintiff, who reportedly had visible cuts on his hands and arms from machete accidents, recalled being bitten continuously by insects during his years of forced labor between 2009 and 2011. He too claims in the lawsuit that he was given false promises of payment after the harvest.
2 million African children working on plantations for hours upon hours to bolster white corporations...to give us candy? pic.twitter.com/9hYpv8TwDY— Charles Preston (@_CharlesPreston) February 13, 2021
Many of the children named as plaintiffs in the suit described being fed little, working long hours, and often being kept alone or isolated from other child workers. The plaintiffs' legal team said that during fieldwork for the case, they routinely found children using machetes, applying chemicals, and undertaking other hazardous tasks on cocoa plantations that were linked to one or more of the defendants. Such abuses against children represent a "humanitarian disaster," said the court papers, as they contribute to Ivory Coast's ongoing poverty in addition to being morally repugnant. The defendants have been accused of being responsible for developing the entire cocoa production system of Ivory Coast and the case documentation maintains that — as key participants in this "venture" — the defendants either knew or should have known about the "systematic" use of child labor.