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U.S. Supreme Court rules for Nestle, Cargill over slavery lawsuit

A farmer holds a cocoa pod at a cocoa farm in Alepe, Ivory Coast December 7, 2020. REUTERS-Luc Gnago-File Photo

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday threw out a lawsuit accusing Cargill Inc and a Nestle SA subsidiary of knowingly helping perpetuate slavery at Ivory Coast cocoa farms, but sidestepped a broader ruling on the permissibility of suits accusing American companies of human rights violations abroad.

The 8-1 ruling authored by Justice Clarence Thomas reversed a lower court decision that had allowed the lawsuit, brought on behalf of former child slaves from Mali who worked at the farms, filed against the companies in 2005 to proceed.

The court ruled the claim could not be brought under the Alien Tort Statute, which lets non-U.S. citizens seek damages in American courts in certain instances. The business community has long sought to limit corporate liability under this law.

The lawsuits targeted the U.S. subsidiary of Swiss-based Nestle, the world’s biggest food producer, and commodities trader Cargill, one of the largest privately held U.S. companies.

The plaintiffs accused the companies of aiding and abetting human rights violations through their active involvement in purchasing Ivory Coast cocoa and turning a blind eye to the use of slave labor on the farms despite being aware of the practice in order to keep cocoa prices low.

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