Adm charged in child slavery
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Posted on Thu, Jul. 14, 2005
Nestle, Archer Daniels Midland named in slave labor suit
LOS ANGELES - Three citizens of the West African nation of Mali are suing Nestle SA, Archer Daniels Midland Co., and Cargill Inc., alleging the firms and their subsidiaries benefited from child slave labor at cocoa bean plantations in Ivory Coast.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday, was brought on behalf of three unnamed "John Doe" plaintiffs identified as former child slaves.
The complaint, which alleged violations of U.S. federal laws against slavery, trafficking, forced labor and torture, among others, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
The case also seeks class-action status.
San Francisco-based Global Exchange, a nonprofit international human rights organization, and International Labor Rights Fund, a Washington D.C.-based human rights group, filed the lawsuit. The ILRF was also behind a human rights lawsuit against El Segundo-based Unocal Inc. that was settled in December.
According to Thursday's lawsuit, the plaintiffs were each forced from their homes in Mali in 1996 while still in their teens to toil without pay at cocoa bean plantations in the neighboring nation of Ivory Coast.
The plaintiffs, who worked in separate plantations, claim they worked 12 hours a day or more, were barely fed and were subject to beatings if they didn't work properly or attempted to escape.
The lawsuit claims the three corporations, who are among the largest food producers in the world, benefited from the forced labor at the plantations because they were able to import cocoa beans at a lower price.
The companies, the lawsuit contends, are directly liable for knowingly providing "financial support, supplies, training" that could have been use to support the cocoa bean cooperatives' alleged use of child slave labor.
"It is unconscionable that Nestle, ADM and Cargill have ignored repeated and well-documented warnings over the past several years that the farms they were using to grow cocoa employed child slave laborers," said ILRF attorney Natacha Thys. "They could have put a stop to it years ago, but chose to look the other way. We had to go to court as a last resort."
A spokeswoman for Nestle SA subsidiary Nestle USA Inc. in Glendale said Thursday the company had no immediate comment because it had yet to see the complaint.
No one was available for comment after business hours Thursday at the offices of Decatur, Ill.-based Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Wayzata, Minn.-based Cargill Inc.