Mars, Nestle Among Companies Named in Cocoa Labor Abuse Suit

International Rights Advocates, a human rights group, said it filed a federal class action lawsuit Friday on behalf of eight Malian citizens against chocolate companies for alleged complicity in trafficking and forced labor.

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.

Nestle SA, Cargill Inc. and Mars Inc. are among the companies named in the suit.

“They benefit by continuing to profit from selling cheap cocoa harvested by child slaves,” IRAdvocates said in a statement.

“We don’t comment on any possible pending litigation,” Jessica Adelman, a Mars spokeswoman said by email.

Mars Wrigley said this week in a report that it expanded coverage of child labor monitoring.

“We are aware of the filing and while we cannot comment on specifics of this case right now, I want to reinforce we have no tolerance for child labor in cocoa production,” a Cargill spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “Our resolve to address this has never been stronger and we are accelerating our efforts to address the root causes of child 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.

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