In December of 2020, The Supreme Court heard a case against chocolate giants Nestle and Cargill brought on behalf of 15 formerly enslaved children from Mali. As reported in our January 14, 2020 blog post, Nestle and Cargill were being sued for aiding and abetting overseas human rights violations using the Alien Tort Statute, a law created in 1789 that allows, in some cases, for non-US citizens to seek damages for violations done by US companies overseas. The plaintiffs were between the ages of 12 and 14 when the abuse took place.
The verdict is in. Last month, the Supreme Court threw out the case in an 8-1 ruling with Justice Samuel Alito casting the dissenting vote. The reason the case was not allowed to proceed to trial, as stated in the opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, is that the plaintiffs' attorneys did not show that enough of the actions had taken place on US soil, but rather almost entirely overseas. The judges interpretation of the Alien Tort Statute is that the companies could not therefore be held liable.
This case was being watched carefully by all of the Big Chocolate companies who have long been trying to limit their corporate liability in all forms. Other business entities, including the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, backed Nestle and Cargill.
While it is disheartening that the formerly enslaved children are being denied a full hearing, at least Nestle and Cargill didn’t get everything they had hoped for in this case. The two corporations pushed for the Court to disallow all human rights cases that occur overseas, which the Supreme Court did not do; the Justices kept their judgement to this one particular case. And attorneys for the formerly enslaved children plan to refile the lawsuit and include more information about abuse that did take place on US soil.
Nestle and Cargill, not surprisingly, greeted the news with adamant statements that they do not engage in nor support any child slavery. Personal stories from formerly enslaved children point to another reality. Alan Hoffman, one of the attorneys in this case, is currently preparing another case on behalf of yet another group of children.
Tangle Chocolate buys our cocoa beans from smallholder farmers who are known individually by our importer, Uncommon Cacao, and who do not exploit or abuse children. We are proud to be included on Slave Free Chocolate's list (at slavefreechocolate.org) of endorsed companies, and ask that you consult their website next time you want to try a new chocolate.