The US Supreme Court has reversed a court ruling that saw former child labourers sue Nestlé and Cargill for knowingly helping to perpetuate slavery at Ivory Coast farms in order to keep cocoa prices low.
The court dismissed the lawsuit on 17 June because the “respondents’ injuries occurred overseas and the only domestic conduct alleged by respondents was general corporate activity,” a court document stated.
The accusation could not be brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) – which allows non-US citizens to file lawsuits in American courts – because the plaintiffs did not show that any of the relevant conduct took place within the US.
According to the official court filing, “the District Court dismissed this suit after we held that the ATS does not apply extraterritorially,” concluding that the respondents improperly sought extraterritorial application of the ATS.
In February earlier this year, Nestlé and Cargill were accused – alongside Mars, Mondelēz, Barry Callebaut, Olam and Hershey – of actively purchasing cocoa from Ivory Coast farms, while turning a blind eye to their use of slave labour.
“Respondents argue that petitioners “knew or should have known” that the farms were exploiting enslaved children yet continued to provide those farms with resources,” stated the filing.
The filing said the US court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had erred in allowing the suit to proceed on the basis that defendant corporations allegedly made “major operational decisions” in the US.
Meanwhile, the court bypassed a broader ruling on whether the ATS could be used to hold US companies liable for human rights violations abroad.
As cited by Reuters, Paul Hoffman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the ruling “has delayed our clients’ long quest for justice”, but said he intends to refile the lawsuit with more detailed allegations on conduct that he claims took place in the US.
By Emma Upshall
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