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Many people give chocolates as a symbol of love on Valentine’s Day, but for some the popular candy is more bitter than sweet.
A human rights group filed a lawsuit Friday on behalf of eight Malian men who say they were trafficked across the border to the Cote D’Ivoire and forced to harvest cocoa for one or more of seven popular companies, including Mars, Nestlé and Hershey.
“Enough is enough!” IRAdvocates Executive Director Terry Collingsworth said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Allowing the enslavement of African children in 2021 to harvest cocoa for major multinational companies is outrageous and must end.”
The class action lawsuit was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In addition to Nestlé, Hershey and Mars, the lawsuit also names Cargill, Mondelēz, Barry Callebaut and Olam. It marks the first time that a class action lawsuit of this type has been brought against cocoa companies in a U.S. court, The Guardian reported. The eight men, who are now young adults, seek damages for forced labor and compensation for the fact that the companies inflicted emotional harm and improper supervision while getting rich at their expense.
Child labor is a major and ongoing problem for cocoa production in West Africa. NORC at the University of Chicago found that 1.56 million children were harvesting cocoa in Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana during the 2018 and 2019 growing season, up 14 percent from 2015, IRAdvocates said. At the same time, 1.48 million children undertook dangerous tasks while working.
The defendant companies have long pledged to end the use of child slavery in their supply chains, but continually extend their deadlines for meeting this goal. In 2001, they signed the “Harkin-Engle Protocol” promising to end child labor by 2005; more than 15 years later, they are now promising to reduce the use of child labor by 70 percent by 2025.
“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,” Collingsworth said.