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Seven chocolate giants including Nestle, Hershey and Cargill have been cleared of charges of child slave labour in their cocoa supply chains, bringing an end to a US lawsuit filed in early 2021.

Eight young men from the West African country of Mali accused Hershey, Nestle, Cargill, Mars Inc, Mondelez International, Barry Callebaut and Olam International of being liable for child slavery on their farms. The plaintiffs recounted that as children, they were approached by unknown men with the promise of paid work. Instead, they were trafficked and forced to work without pay, and threatened with starvation if they did not comply.

In a ruling on Tuesday, 28th June, US District Judge Dabney Friedrich concluded that the plaintiffs, in this case, failed to show a “traceable connection” between the specific plantations where they worked and the seven defendant companies. Additionally, she said they were unable to sufficiently explain the role played by intermediaries in the cocoa supply chain.

The youths sued the defendants under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. Terry Collingsworth, the human rights lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, said they plan to appeal the decision, and “force the companies to keep their own promises and end this abhorrent system they have created.”

The US Supreme Court dismissed a similar case in June 2021 in which Nestle’s US division and Cargill were accused of child slavery in their cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire.

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