Child slavery lawsuit dismissed against Hershey Co., others

Paula Wolf//June 30, 2022

Child slavery lawsuit dismissed against Hershey Co., others

Paula Wolf//June 30, 2022

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., this week dismissed a lawsuit by eight citizens of Mali who sought to hold The Hershey Co. and six others liable for child slavery on Ivory Coast cocoa farms, Reuters news agency reported.

The plaintiffs in the proposed class action lacked standing to sue because they didn’t show a “traceable connection” between the seven defendant companies and the specific plantations where they worked, said U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich.

They also didn’t adequately explain the role of intermediaries in the cocoa supply chain, noting that the companies didn’t monitor activity in “free zones” where about 70% to 80% of the cocoa is produced.

The other defendants are Nestle SA, Cargill Inc., Mars Inc., Mondelez International Inc., Barry Callebaut AG and Olam International Ltd.

Mali and the Ivory Coast share a border in West Africa. The plaintiffs said they were trafficked as children after being approached by strange men who promised paying jobs. They were ultimately not paid for their labor, threatened with starvation if they didn’t work, and forced to live in squalid conditions.

Their lawyer said the plaintiffs, who sued under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, plan to appeal.

In court papers, the seven defendants said they “strongly condemn the use of forced labor” and were working to address nonforced child labor in cocoa supply chains, Reuters reported.

But they said the plaintiffs’ legal theory was overbroad and could leave too many people liable, including consumers and retailers benefiting from lower prices.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer