People want to buy from companies that behave ethically. Normally, we assume that ethical businesses do business only with ethical suppliers. But the complaint for this class action alleges that Nestlé USA, Inc. gets a majority of its chocolate from farms that use child labor and slave labor and that do environmental damage. Despite this, the complaint says, the company claims its chocolate is a sustainable, fair trade product.
The class for this action is all US residents who bought Nestle products marked with the Nestle Cocoa Plan or UTZ seals, the words “sustainably sourced,” or “improv[ing] the lives of farmers” with the US, between April 18, 2015 and the present.
Nestlé buys cocoa on the Ivory Coast. Ivory Coast cocoa farms rely on child labor, including what the International Labor Organization calls “the Worst Forms of Child Labor”—that is, “trafficking, slavery, and exposure to toxic chemicals and hazardous tools.”
Nestlé supposedly signed an agreement to develop standards of certification to ensure that cocoa farming and production was done without these Worst Forms of Child Labor by July 2005. However, this deadline has repeatedly been pushed back, and a 2015 Tulane University study found that the number of Ivorian children engaged in those Worst Forms actually increased between 2009 and 2014.
The children, aged from 5 to 17, burn and clear fields, cut down trees, spray pesticides, use sharp tools to break pods, and carry heavy loads.
The complaint quotes the US Department of Labor as saying, “Some children are sold by their parents to traffickers, some are kidnapped, and other migrate willingly but fall victim to traffickers who sell them to recruiters or farmers…” It also says, “The children are frequently not paid for their work… These children are held against their will on isolated farms, are locked in their living quarters at night, and are threatened and beaten if they attempt to escape. … They are forced to work long hours … even when they are sick. Some children are denied sufficient food by their traffickers and employers.”
Yet Nestlé places “seals” on its products, the complaint says, claiming that the products are “sustainably sourced,” including the logo of the company’s Cocoa Plan, which purports to improve the lives of cocoa farmers. The complaint says it also makes reference on its packaging to UTZ, a third-party certifier for ethical and sustainable farming.
As for environmental degradation, the complaint claims that a “massive deforestation” is taking place, with rainforests cleared for cocoa plantations, villages and farmers occupying land in national parks, and officials taking kickbacks to permit the violations of laws. “At the current pace of deforestation,” the complaint says, there will be no forest left in the Ivory Coast by 2030.”
The complaint says the reality of Ivory Coast cocoa farming makes the company’s Cocoa Plan and its claims of sustainability a sham and a violation of consumer protection laws.