The Hershey Co. and Mars Inc. are facing two class-action lawsuits filed by Massachusetts consumers stating the two companies – like Nestle – hid from purchasers that they regularly import cocoa beans from suppliers in the Ivory Coast using the worst forms of child labor as recognized by the UN, including dangerous child labor and the slave labor of trafficked children, according to Hagens Berman.
“Like Nestle, Mars and Hershey’s have failed to take action on this issue, despite clear knowledge of their support of the use of child and slave labor, and have also failed to inform consumers at point-of-sale that their purchases are supporting this supply chain linked directly to atrocious human rights violations,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman.
Mars and Hershey’s are two of the largest and most profitable food conglomerates in the United States, according to the lawsuit.
Which Chocolates Are Affected?
Much of the chocolate candy produced by Hershey’s and Mars is affected, including:
- Reese's Peanut Butter Cups®
- Kit Kat®
- Hershey's® milk chocolate bars
- Almond Joy®
- York Peppermint Patties®
- Cadbury® chocolates
- 3Musketeers® and
- MilkyWay® among others.
If you live in Massachusetts and would not have purchased these candies had you known the truth about their source and use of child labor, contact our legal team to find out your rights against Hershey’s and Mars. Only one contact form entry per consumer is necessary.
“We believe that most consumers would not want their purchasing power supporting child labor and slave labor,” Berman added.
The lawsuit states that in 2001, the chocolate industry – including Hershey’s and Mars – agreed to the Harkin-Engel Protocol and promised to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the Ivory Coast by 2005. The two defendants, and other signatories, promised to work “wholeheartedly…to fulfill the letter and spirit of this Protocol, and to do so in accordance with the deadlines prescribed herein.” However, the industry broke this promise repeatedly in a series of follow-up statements which postponed their deadline to act to 2008, to 2010, and now to 2020, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit filed on Feb. 23, 2018, in Massachusetts federal court, states that in violation of Massachusetts law, Mars and Hershey’s do not disclose that their suppliers in the Ivory Coast rely on child laborers and instead continues to profit from the child labor that supplies the chocolate sold to American consumers. Most of these child laborers engage in dangerous work, and some are even subject to conditions of modern-day slavery.
Child Labor and Slave Labor in the Cocoa Industry
“Much of the world’s chocolate is quite literally brought to us by the back-breaking labor of child slaves,” the suit states, detailing that Although Mars’ and Hershey’s corporate business principles and supplier code prohibit both child and forced labor, the two companies are aware that cocoa beans from the Ivory Coast are produced using child labor, including the Worst Forms of Child Labor as recognized by the United Nations: the compulsory labor of trafficked children and the labor of children involving dangerous tools, transport of heavy loads, and exposure to toxic substances, i.e., hazardous work.
Based on the most recently available estimate from Tulane University cited in the complaint, more than 4,000 children work in conditions of forced labor in the production of cocoa in the Ivory Coast.
“Some children are sold by their parents to traffickers, some are kidnapped, and others migrate willingly but fall victim to traffickers who sell them to recruiters or farmers, where they end up in conditions of bonded labor,” the lawsuit states. “Some farmers buy the children and refuse to let them leave the farm until the debt of their purchase has been worked off. The children are frequently not paid for their work; some of their wages are paid to the recruiter or trafficker. These children are held against their will on isolated farms, are locked in their living quarters at night, and are threatened and beaten if they attempt to escape. They are punished by their employers with physical abuse.”
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights class-action law firm with 11 offices across the country. The firm has been named to the National Law Journal’s Plaintiffs’ Hot List eight times. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at www.hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.