Eight young adults are suing a number of chocolate companies -- including behemoths such as Hershey and Nestlé -- for what they claim is the knowing use and profit of child slavery in the Ivory Coast. The group of eight are all allegedly victims of the practice and were forced as children to pick cocoa for chocolate production. The suit is being brought in the United States.
According to The Guardian, the group of eight is being represented by the human rights agency International Rights Advocates (IRA). In the suit, they accused many corporations -- including Nestlé, Cargill, Barry Callebaut, Mars, Olam, Hershey and Mondelēz. According to filings, they allege the candy companies both aided and abetted the enslavement of children to work without pay and in unsafe conditions on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. The number of enslaved minors is said to number into the "thousands."
The details described in the filings are disturbing. The young adults, who all hail from Mali, claimed they were first recruited as minors after being promised payment for just a few months of work. One was as young as 11-years-old. They were then taken away from their families and brought to the cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast. On the plantations, the plaintiffs said they were forced to work, sometimes for several years, without pay and denied travel documents or any details about their situation. None had any idea how to return home.
In addition to the forced labor, the plaintiffs were also given dangerous tasks that would not pass safety standards. For example, one was required to spray pesticides and other chemicals, despite not being given any type of protective gear. Others used machetes even though they were untrained in their use, often resulting in injuries.
The plaintiffs hope to seek damages for "forced labor" and compensation for "unjust enrichment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress," per The Guardian.
The chocolate companies have denied promoting child slavery while decrying the legal action. For example, Nestlé said the lawsuit "does not advance the shared goal of ending child labor in the cocoa industry."
"Child labor is unacceptable and goes against everything we stand for. Nestlé has explicit policies against it and is unwavering in our dedication to ending it. We remain committed to combatting child labor within the cocoa supply chain and addressing its root causes as part of the Nestlé Cocoa Plan and through collaborative efforts," the company added.
Although companies are seemingly committed to ending slavery, it still takes place across the globe. As was previously covered by The Inquisitr, a police raid in Brazil rescued 39 people from the practice this past November.