Supreme Court Decision on Slavery Could End It for Good
This landmark decision could ensure that corporations are not immune from the universal prohibition of slavery and can be liable for human rights crimes
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Terry Collingsworth, Executive Director
International Rights Advocates
+1-202-543-5811 / firstname.lastname@example.org / @tpcollingsworth
WASHINGTON, DC ─ JUNE 1, 2021 ─ A landmark court decision could be handed down by the end of this month when arguably the most conservative court in the last century deliberates on whether corporations are immune from the universal prohibition of slavery and held liable under international law for human rights crimes which includes aiding and abetting.
This month - which also marks the World Day against Child Labor, Juneteenth, and 16 years since the case filing - the U.S. Supreme court will decide when or how multinational companies like Nestlé and Cargill could be sued for aiding and abetting human rights abuses under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), passed by Congress in 1789.
In 2005, International Rights Advocates (IRA) sued Nestlé and Cargill on behalf of six children trafficked from Mali to forcibly harvest cocoa for those, and other, companies in Côte d’Ivoire. The nearly two decades since have been marked by large corporate firms fighting the case in court, allowing these multinational giants to continue to profit from child slavery during the years of litigation. The Supreme Court decision would end this long battle and uphold human rights. Terry Collingsworth, Executive Director of IRA noted that “the implications of this case are tremendous. If corporations are found to be totally immune from human rights crimes, including slavery, the already lawless global economy will become the wild west and many individual criminals will discover the benefits of forming a corporation. It cannot be that this Supreme Court will ignore these implications and grant immunity for slavery to corporations in the year 2021.”
A ruling rejecting Nestlé and Cargill’s claim will ensure that America upholds human rights, with trade groups raising concerns that such a decision could negatively affect supply chains or disrupt foreign relations.
A ruling in favor of Nestlé and Cargill’s claim would make corporations immune from liability for human rights abuses, with human rights advocates fearing that this would continue to increase the use of slave labor.
Examples in Canada and France - who have both implemented mandatory “human rights due diligence” - have been successful in maintaining supply chain stability and continuous foreign relations. The concerns that similar actions in the U.S. would open up multinational corporations from unending litigation that would be disruptive could therefore appear overstated.
Nestlé and Cargill’s legal argument that they could freely use enslaved children to harvest cocoa sharply conflicts with their public claims that they were working to end their reliance on child labor. All large cocoa companies, including Mars, Hershey, Mondelēz, Olam and Barry Callebaut, like Nestlé and Cargill, have repeatedly admitted that child labor is persistent in their cocoa supply chains. Since 2001, when they signed the now failed “Harkin-Engle Protocol,” they have promised to voluntarily end their use of child slaves but have failed to do so even after extending the agreed upon deadline three times. In fact, as we work to rid our society of the pervasive vestiges of slavery, there are 1.56 million children (Department of Labor) from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana that still produce nearly 60% of the world’s cocoa each year as a result of forced labor.
The Court’s decision could clear the way for the Plaintiffs to establish Nestlé and Cargill’s legal liability for their refusal to voluntarily develop effective mechanisms over the last nearly two decades ensuring that children who are enslaved are not harvesting their cocoa. In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, but this Supreme Court decision would ensure that companies like Nestlé and Cargill are not immune from this universal prohibition of slavery.
About International Rights Advocates
Our vision is a world free of slave labor, where those who have experienced human rights abuses in global supply chains have access to justice. To achieve this, IRAdvocates works globally - from Southeast Asia and West Africa to South America - addressing a wide range of human rights issues through coalition building, policy and advocacy, strategic litigation, training and research. Learn more about us here, or visit our viral Reddit AMA for common questions and answers on the issues.
In addition to our case that is to be decided this month by the Supreme Court, International Rights Advocates filed a petition with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”) under section 307 of the Trade Act of 1930, 19 U.S.C. § 1307, seeking to ban the importation of cocoa from Cote D’Ivoire unless individual companies can establish that their cocoa is not harvested by forced child labor. We also filed a case based on trafficked and forced child labor on behalf of eight formerly enslaved children under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”), 18 U.S.C. § 1595 et. seq., against Nestlé, Cargill, Barry Callebaut, Mars, Olam, Mondelez, and Hershey.