Supreme Court sides with Nestle and Cargill in child labor case
The Supreme Court on Thursday sided with the chocolate companies Nestle and Cargill in an extraterritorial child labor case.
The case, which the court heard last year, was one of a series of cases in which noncitizens attempted to settle disputes in American courts, citing carve-outs in international law for human rights abuses. In the other two cases, Holocaust survivors and their descendants asked the court to allow lawsuits against Germany and Hungary to proceed in American courts. In both, the court refused .
Many justices during December arguments were skeptical in this case, as well. The petitioners, six former child slaves in Mali, were seeking to sue Nestle and the Minnesota-based company Cargill on the grounds that they had turned a blind eye to instances of child labor on cocoa farms.
The former child slaves alleged that the two companies, which worked with independent contractors, "knew or should have known" that their product was produced using child labor.
The case divided the court into many different factions. Justice Clarence Thomas took the majority opinion for the first two parts, concluding that the former slaves had improperly tried to sue in an American court. He was joined by all the justices but Samuel Alito, who dissented. Thomas also wrote an opinion on the case's third part. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor wrote separate opinions.
Thomas wrote that because "nearly all the conduct that they say aided and abetted forced labor — providing training, fertilizer, tools, and cash to overseas farms — occurred in Ivory Coast," it is not possible for the case to be heard in the United States.
Alito in his dissent wrote that he would also reject the case but on different grounds. Alito was one of the most outspoken voices against the case during arguments.
“Is it too much to ask that you allege specifically that the defendants ... specifically knew that forced child labor was being used on the farms or farm cooperatives with which they did business?” Alito asked the former slaves' attorney.
More broadly, the justices were wary of allowing a foreign case to proceed in the American legal system. The court showed that same reluctance in the cases involving Germany and Hungary, finding that the bar was incredibly high for U.S. intervention. Any other intervention, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinions for those cases, "would arguably force courts themselves to violate international law."