A handful of the world’s biggest food companies are in serious trouble after supposedly using child slaves in the Ivory Coast for its food production.
This Monday, the Supreme Court upheld a lawsuit waged against Nestle, Archer-Daniels-Midland and Cargill for ignoring the human rights violations in working conditions of the factories supplying them cocoa, despite being aware of the child slave labor.
The lawsuit was first filed in 2005 by three formerly trafficked workers from Mali that were forced to harvest cocoa beans without compensation. They claim that as children, they were overworked and frequently physically abused.
The workers also say they were confined to locked rooms when they weren’t working and were only fed scraps of food. As cruel and unusual punishment, children who tried to run away had their feet cut open by guards.
A 2015 report by the Fair Labor Association, which includes Nestlé as a member, found evidence of forced and child labor in Cote d’Ivoire farms used by the company during a number of unannounced visits the previous year.
The lawsuit alleges violations of the Alien Tort Claims Act, Torture Victim Protection Act, US Constitution, and California state law.
The case focuses in part on the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that makes it more difficult to sue corporations for overseas abuses.
The court threw out Kiobel v Shell, a case that accused the oil company of aiding state-sponsored torture and murder on the grounds that the law covered violations in the US only, as elsewhere, violations must “touch and concern” US territory.
The plaintiffs in this case were found to have standing to bring the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) case because of the universal prohibition against slavery. The appeals court ruled that the plaintiffs could update their suit to account for the 2013 ruling.
Activists that are invested in the fight against child slavery are enthusiastic about the Supreme Court’s decision in support of the plaintiffs in the case. However, they note that slave labor and human trafficking are sweeping issues that will take time to eradicate.
“There is very little cocoa production that isn’t sourced in a bad way,” Patti Rundall, policy director at campaign group at International Baby Food Action Network, said to The Independent. “It will take a long time to change that due to the nature of large corporations.”
In July 2015, the US Department of Labor issued a report showing that there were 2.12 million child laborers being used in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana in cocoa production—more than double the number of child laborers used in 2014.