“Kidnapped children are held against their will on isolated farms, locked away at night, threatened with beatings, and forced to work long hours even when they are sick,” former child slaves claim in a lawsuit against Nestlé. Hershey’s and Mars chocolates also use horrific forms of child labor.
Not many are aware that slavery is still alive and well in the modern world, especially on cocoa plantations in West Africa.
The cocoa used in the majority of the world’s cheap chocolate – sold by Nestlé, Hershey’s and Mars – is planted, harvested and processed by 1.5 million children, about 4000 of which are actual slaves, according to a 2015 lawsuit filed against the companies by customers.
“Some children are kidnapped by traffickers who sell them to recruiters or farmers,” the complaint states.
“The children are held against their will on isolated farms, locked away at night, threatened with beatings and forced to work long hours even when they are sick.”
More than 1.1 million children on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana have suffered the “worst forms of child labor” – using dangerous tools, transporting heavy loads, and being exposed to pesticides – according to a 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Labor.
“Children that are not even 10 years old carry huge sacks so big that they cause them serious physical harm,” the complaint states. “Much of the world’s chocolate is quite literally brought to us by the back-breaking labor of child slaves.”
But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that the American corporations cannot be held responsible for the actions of their “partner” farms overseas, despite allegations that Nestlé was offering the farms’ “overseers” cash kickbacks to yield cocoa crops at rock-bottom prices.
The 2020 lawsuit was filed by six former child slaves, now adults, who claim Nestlé aided and abetted their kidnapping, torture and enslavement.
Despite providing farmers training, equipment and cash to run their farms the way Nestlé wanted them to, Nestlé’s lawyers claim child slavery was never endorsed or enforced by the company.
Nestlé’s “mere corporate presence” on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana that use slavery does not prove complicity with slavery, African American Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the justices’ joint ruling.
The only justice to vote that the case had merit was Justice Samuel Alito.
The former slaves’ lawyers plan to file a new lawsuit at the appellate level with more supporting evidence of complicity.
While the world’s three major chocolate companies are pleading ignorance in court, they’ve been well aware of the problem of child labor in their supply chains since at least 2001, when they signed an agreement to end the “worst forms of child labor” by 2005.
When they didn’t reach their goal, the agreement was extended to 2008. When that date came and passed, they signed a new agreement in 2010 to reduce the “worst forms of child labor” by 70% by 2020.
Instead, the number of children working on cocoa farms actually doubled by 2015, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor.
In 2018, Nestlé inadvertently admitted to knowledge of slavery within its supply chain, when it fought Australia’s proposed Modern Slavery Act. The legislation would have required companies to report their progress on eliminating human trafficking, slavery, sexual servitude and child labor within their operations and supply chains.
Mandatory reporting requirements would add “cost and time, which will need to be borne somewhere,” Nestle’s submission to an Australian Senate committee said.
“While we are of the view that the mandatory requirements are sensible, in practical terms this difference means that multinational companies will have to prepare bespoke statements for each country in which they are required to report … Not all suppliers may bear those costs themselves; some may pass them on to customers/consumers.”
The best way to end modern slavery is to boycott companies using it. Below are dozens of Nestlé brands to avoid. For a complete list of the 2000 brands owned by Nestlé click here. Buying Fair Trade certified products can also help steer clear of supporting slave labor.
We highly recommend Hu Chocolate. Not only are they committed to treating humans and the planet right, it’s the most delicious chocolate we’ve ever tasted: