Nestle and Hershey, the largest U.S. chocolate companies, have no obligation to disclose to consumers that their cocoa suppliers use child slave labor, a federal judge ruled this week.
The use of child slavery to supply the cocoa used by major corporations in their candy “raises significant ethical questions” but the issue before the court is whether California law requires the companies to inform customers on their packaging, wrote U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero. It does not he concluded, as has every court that has considered it.
Ivory Coast in western Africa is the world’s largest cocoa bean producer, the raw ingredient of chocolate, with 40 percent of global production, Spero said. Some 47 percent of that is imported to the U.S.
An estimated 820,000 children in Ivory Coast and nearly 1 million in Ghana were found working in the cocoa-related industry in 2008, according to Tulane University.
The U.S. government, nonprofit groups, journalists and academic studies have shown slave labor and the worst forms of child labor are common in Ivory Coast cocoa production, Spero said.
In 2011, the largest food companies, including Nestle, signed voluntary protocols to develop standards for certifying chocolate without labor abuse. But the industry failed to meet its first deadline in 2005 and gave itself more time, first extending to 2008, then 2010 and now 2020.
Elaine McCoy, a San Francisco Bay Area consumer, sued Nestle in 2015 and a separate lawsuit was filed against Hershey with the same claims that the companies had violated the state’s unfair competition law and consumers legal remedies act and engaged in false advertising.
On March 18, Spero considered Nestle’s motion to dismiss the case and on Tuesday he granted the request in two separate orders covering the Nestle and Hershey cases.
“There are countless issues that may be legitimately important to many customers, and the courts are not suited to determine which should occupy the limited surface area of a chocolate wrapper,” Spero concluded.
Because the companies to not omit any known dangers to the safety of customers, there is no duty to disclose the issue of slave labor raised in the lawsuit, he said.
Case: McCoy v. Nestle, No. 15-cv-4451
Dana v. Hershey Co., No. 15-4453