This article discusses an appeal by Nestle USA, Inc. and Cargill Inc. from a Ninth Circuit decision permitting federal court jurisdiction concerning the defendants’ liability for their role in the child slave labor trade and exploitation on Ivory Coast on cocoa farms. This case was argued to the United States Supreme Court on December 1, 2020. The appeal addresses the extraterritorial reach of American federal courts under the Alien Tort Statute to hold American corporations liable for alleged aiding-and-abetting child slave labor by unidentified foreign actors that occurred on Ivory Coast .The Court will examine whether the plaintiffs’ claims against Nestlé USA and Cargill Inc. domestic activities “touch and concern” the U.S. sufficiently to confer liability under the Alien Tort statute or are sufficiently within the statute’s “focus.” The Court also may address whether domestic corporate liability for forced labor claims are an established feature of international and American law.
The Nestlé USA appeal has garnered widespread media attention in the context of the horrific reports of the child slave labor trade, forced labor, and trafficking on Ivory Coast cocoa farms. The parties stake out contrasting views of the significance of litigation. While recognizing the reprehensibility of child slave labor, Nestlé USA frames the question before the Court as involving the legal standards governing any accusation of wrongdoing; in this instance, under the ATS.
The plaintiffs, on the other hand, ground their ATS legal arguments firmly in the moral outrage of child forced labor, as an affront to basic human rights and violation of the law of nations. In the plaintiffs’ view, the underlying facts bring the case solidly within the purpose, scope, and intent of the ATS to provide a forum and means of redress for aliens suffering tort injuries at the hands of corporation entities– regardless of the analytical test the Court applies to resolve the ATS issue of domestic corporate liability. The Nestlé appeal is important precisely because of the pervasiveness of multinational corporations with American subsidiaries as actors on a global stage, punctuated by egregious eruptions of human rights violations.
Linda S Mullenix, Child Slave Labor: More on the Alien Tort Statute and the Extraterritorial Liability of Domestic Corporations, 48 Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases 15 (November 30, 2020). View Online