The Complaint: Coubaly et al v Cargill Incorporated et al
On the 12th of February 2021, a class complaint was filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia by a group of former child slaves of Malian origin who were trafficked from Mali and were forced to perform hazardous work on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. The complaint is against the following defendants: Nestlé USA; Cargill Inc and Cargill Cocoa; Barry Callebaut USA LLC; Mars Inc and Mars Wrigley Confectionery; Olam Americas Inc; Hershey Company; and Mondelēz International Inc.
The claimants do not just bring the complaint on their own behalf – they also bring the action on behalf of all other former child slaves of Malian origin that were trafficked into the Ivory Coast and forced to perform hazardous work on a farm that provided cocoa beans to one or more of the defendants.
The claimants bring claims for compensation under the US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act on the basis that the defendants knowingly benefitted from the forced labour of children. They also seek relief based on common law claims of negligent supervision, intentional infliction of emotional distress and unjust enrichment.
So why has the claim been brought in the US? Firstly, the claimants argue that they cannot bring the case in Mali because the law there does not allow them to seek civil damages for their injuries against major exporters of cocoa operating outside Mali. Secondly, the claimants argue that they cannot bring their claims in the Ivory Coast due to a notoriously corrupt judicial system there and how courts there would be unresponsive to claims about foreign children in relation to activities that bring significant revenue to the Ivory Coast.
Significance for Business
Now this complaint has been filed, we will need to wait to see how it progresses. However, at this stage, the complaint provides a clear reminder of the lessons that businesses need to learn in relation to child labour.
Firstly, the complaint illustrates how child labour remains a real risk for many businesses. Not only do businesses not wish to be complicit in human rights abuses, but such complaints can lead to financial harm. For example, in this case, there are potentially thousands of children that are members of the relevant class, so the defendants potentially face paying significant damages, alongside facing reputational harm.
Secondly, in light of this remaining risk of child labour, the complaint serves to remind businesses of the importance of establishing robust governance in relation to human rights issues in their organisation and supply chain.
How can Ardea International help?
Here at Ardea International, we have expertise in helping businesses to achieve best practices in relation to human rights due diligence through our consulting work. For example, we can perform a gap analysis, help you to manage risk, or help you to develop sustainable procurement policies and procedures.
Also look out for our STOP Child Labour course which is coming soon. This course will help you learn:
- How to identify child labour and risks of child labour in your organisation or supply chain;
- How to develop suitable action plans and due diligence processes to mitigate risks in relation to child labour;
- The legal requirements and voluntary standards in relation to child labour.
Download the Legal Insight Coubaly
This Legal Insight outlines a child labour complaint filed in a US District Court against the cocoa industry.