Seven of the world’s largest cocoa manufacturers are being sued over accusations of child labour in their supply chains.
Human rights group International Rights Advocates, said Nestlé, Cargill, Mars, Mondelez, Hershey, Barry Callebaut, and Olam would use child labour “until they are forced to stop”.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Washington DC, concerns eight individuals from Mali who alleged they were trafficked as children and forced to harvest cocoa in Cote D’Ivoire for one or more of the companies.
“These companies have a long history of violating the law and participating in a venture in Cote D’Ivoire that relies upon child slaves to produce cheap cocoa,” IRAdvocates said.
The non-profit said the firms had signed the 'Harkin-Engle Protocol' in 2001, which “explicitly promised” they would stop using child labour by 2005.
“Instead, they have given themselves numerous unilateral extensions of time and now claim that by 2025 they will reduce by 70% their reliance on child labour,” it said.
IRAdvocates claimed the firms’ use of child labour “is actually getting worse”, citing a study by NORC at the University of Chicago that concluded 1.56m child labourers were working in cocoa-growing areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana in the 2018-19 season, an increase of 14% since a 2015 study.
Terry Collingsworth, executive director of IRAdvocates, said: “By giving themselves this series of extensions, these companies are admitting they are using child slaves and will continue to do so until they decide it’s in their interests to stop.
“Based on the objective record of twenty years of the failed Harkin-Engle Protocol, these companies will continue to profit from child slavery until they are forced to stop. The purpose of this lawsuit is to force them to stop. Enough is enough. Allowing the enslavement of African children in 2021 to harvest cocoa for major multinational companies is outrageous and must end.”
A Nestlé spokesperson said: “Child labour is unacceptable and goes against everything we stand for. Nestlé has explicit policies against it and we are unwavering in our dedication to ending it. We remain committed to combating child labour within the cocoa supply chain and addressing its root causes as part of the Nestlé Cocoa Plan and through collaborative efforts.
“This lawsuit does not advance the shared goal of ending child labour in the cocoa industry. Child labour is a complex, global problem. Tackling this issue is a shared responsibility. All stakeholders – including governments, NGOs, the communities and the broader cocoa industry – need to continue to address its root causes to have an impact.”
A spokesperson for Barry Callebaut said: “Any form of child labour has no place in our supply chain. We strongly condemn forced labour, slavery and all practices that exploit both adults and children or expose them to harmful or hazardous conditions.
They added that suppliers are required to follow its supplier code, which “clearly states our expectations regarding product safety and quality, sustainability and business ethics”.
An Olam spokesperson said the firm has a “zero-tolerance policy for forced or slave labour” adding that if any instances were identified in its supply chain, it would “immediately take action which includes notifying the appropriate authorities”.
Cargill, Hershey, Mars and Mondelez have been contacted for comment.
In 2019, IRAdvocates also launched legal action against Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla over accusations of forced labour in their cobalt supply chains in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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