Federal Court Gives Go-Ahead for Africans to Sue Nestle in U.S. over Slave Labor Claims

Saturday, December 28, 2013
Child laborer in Ivory Coast (photo: Daniel Rosenthal)

Nestle is facing allegations that it used cocoa plantations in Africa that employed slave labor.


Three residents of Mali sued Nestle USA in U.S. federal court in 2009 claiming they were forced as children to work without pay and were abused at Ivory Coast plantations that supplied Nestle with cocoa.


They brought their case to the United States and based it on the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). The plaintiffs, named as John Does, said they couldn’t get justice in the Ivory Coast due to its “notoriously corrupt” court system.


But their lawsuit, filed in a Northern California federal court, was thrown out the following year by U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson, who ruled that corporations could not be sued under the Alien Tort Statute.


The plaintiffs appealed the decision to a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which in a 2-1 ruling, reinstated the suit.


“In light of intervening developments in the law, we conclude that corporations can face liability for claims brought under the Alien Tort Statute,” the panel’s order states.


The “intervening developments” include a U.S. Supreme Court decision (Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum) that suggested “corporations may be liable under ATS,” according to the circuit court.


The judges also said Wilson erred in requiring the plaintiffs to show “specific intent” on Nestle’s part.


In an amici curiae filed in support of the Malian workers, a group of international law scholars expressed concern that “by creating a law-free zone for corporations, the District Court has charted an unprecedented and unjustified course that effectively immunizes juridical entities that commit serious human rights violations.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Former Malian Slaves See Nestle Suit Revived (by Tim Hull, Courthouse News Service)

Undeterred by Kiobel, Ninth Circuit Allows Doe v Nestle ATS Claims to Continue (by John Bellinger, Lawfare)

In Doe v. Nestle, Professors Green and Ní Aoláin Help Bring Nuremberg Precedent to Contemporary Law (University of Minnesota Law School)

John Doe v. Nestle (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals) (pdf)


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