Supreme Court: Cocoa Slaves Can’t Sue U.S. Companies

June 17, 2021
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that individuals who were enslaved on cocoa farms in Africa have no right to sue American chocolate processors.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that individuals who were enslaved on cocoa farms in Africa have no right to sue American chocolate processors, reversing lower courts in a 15-year-old case.

Six citizens of Mali sued Nestlé and Cargill, alleging that those companies should have known they were buying cocoa that originated from farms using slave labor. They claimed they were beaten into working 12- and 14-hour days on farms in Ivory Coast and made to sleep on the floor in a locked room.

In an opinion signed by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, the court ruled 8 to 1 that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue because the abuse happened outside the United States. A lower court had ruled that the Alien Tort Statue, an 18th-century law originally intended to fight piracy, gave them standing, but that ruling was reversed by an appeals court, and the Supreme Court decision affirmed that reversal.

“To plead facts sufficient to support a domestic application of the [Alien Tort Statute], plaintiffs must allege more domestic conduct than general corporate activity common to most corporations,” Thomas wrote.

“Nestlé never engaged in the egregious child labor alleged in this suit, and we remain unwavering in our dedication to ending child labor in the cocoa industry and to our ongoing work with partners in government, NGOs and industry to tackle this complex, global issue,” the company said in a statement.

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