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Child Labor Lawsuit Targets Major Food Companies

The lawsuit accuses the companies of child labor in cocoa supply chain.

Kristen Kazarian

December 1, 2023

2 Min Read
Lawsuit against CPG giants on child labor
This isn't the first lawsuit for the CPG companies regarding child labor.Image courtesy of Philippe Lissac / Godong / Stone via Getty Images

A new lawsuit filed November 29, 2023, in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia alleges Cargill, Mondelēz, Mars Inc., and the company's leaders "have done little to address the ongoing and pervasive use of child workers performing the worst forms of child labor on their sourcing plantations."

The new suit comes after the US Supreme Court dismissed a similar lawsuit targeting Nestle and Cargill in 2021 after 16 years of litigation. Activists have continued pressuring the companies to meet their pledges to eliminate child labor in their supply chains.

"Cargill is aware of the pervasiveness of child labor in its cocoa supply chain yet employs lofty but false stories of remediation and successful sustainability as a deplorable marketing tactic," says the newly filed suit, which accuses the companies of unjust enrichment, negligent supervision, theft, and consumer fraud.

Minnetonka, MN-based Cargill, a major cocoa supplier for chocolate makers and the nation's largest privately held company, said in a statement November 29 that "forced child labor is unacceptable."

"We take these allegations very seriously," the company said. "We just learned of the filing and cannot comment on the specifics of the case."

The case filed Wednesday is a class-action lawsuit that seeks to include all affected child cocoa workers in Ghana. It relies on different laws than the case dismissed by the Supreme Court, which has been refiled and remains pending.

"I went to two Cargill [supplier] plantations and interviewed a bunch of kids working there — and they were mostly kids working there," said Terry Collingsworth, lead counsel at International Rights Advocates, which is representing the plaintiffs. "It's clear to me companies are going to continue to do this and get this essentially free labor until they can't do it anymore."

The lawsuit includes stories of seven children who work on cocoa plantations in Ghana that Cargill reportedly sources from. The suit alleges children as young as six use sharp machetes in the fields and apply pesticides without protective equipment, causing them to "feel sick and dizzy."

"For a 6-year-old child who has never been to school to perform these tasks to increase profits for Cargill is criminal," the suit says.

Back in September of this year, Cargill was ordered by a Brazilian court to pay 600000 reais ($120,185) as indemnity for buying cocoa from farms where child workers or forced labor has been identified.

In November 2021, a lawsuit was filed against chocolate companies Nestlé, Cargill, Hershey, Olam, Mars, Mondelēz, and Barry Callebaut over allegations that they benefitted from cheap cocoa harvested by forced child labor.

Together, the West African countries of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana produce nearly 60% of the world's cocoa each year. The latest estimates found that 1.56 million children are engaged in child labor on cocoa farms in these two countries, according to a 2020 US Department of Labor report on child labor in cocoa processing.

About the Author(s)

Kristen Kazarian

Managing Editor

Kristen Kazarian has been a writer and editor for more than three decades. She has worked at several consumer magazines and B2B publications in the fields of food and beverage, packaging, processing, women's interest, local news, health and nutrition, fashion and beauty, automotive, and computers.

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