United States: US Supreme Court throws out ‘modern slavery’ case

The US Supreme Court yesterday threw out a lawsuit accusing Cargill and a Nestle 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-US citizens seek damages in American courts in certain instances, because the plaintiffs did not show that any of the relevant conduct took place within the United States.

“Nearly all the conduct that they say aided and abetted forced labour – providing training, fertilizer tools, and cash to overseas farms – occurred in Ivory Coast,” Justice Thomas wrote.

The business community has long sought to limit corporate liability under this law.

“Nestle never engaged in the egregious child labour alleged in this suit, and we remain unwavering in our dedication to combating child labour in the cocoa industry,” a Nestle spokesperson said.

A Cargill spokesperson said the company is committed to keeping child labour out of the cocoa supply chain.

“We do not tolerate the use of child labour in our operations or supply chains and we are working every day to prevent it,” the spokesperson said.

The justices stopped short of definitively deciding the question of whether US companies can ever be sued under the 1789 law. Cargill and Nestle had asked the court to bar such lawsuits in all circumstances.

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

The article has been summarised and the original full article can be found at independent.ie

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