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1 Jun 2020

Kimberly Strawbridge Robsinon, Bloomberg Law

USA: Government urges Supreme Court to shield domestic companies from liability in alleged child labour lawsuits

"DOJ Urges High Court to Shield Companies From Slave Labor Suits," 26 May 2020

U.S. companies should be shielded from liability under a centuries-old law for assisting in child slavery, the Justice Department has told the Supreme Court.

That argument was delivered in a Trump administration filing on Tuesday urging the justices to review a lower court ruling that allowed former child slaves to move forward with their decade-long suit against U.S. manufacturers, processors, and retailers of cocoa beans accused of aiding and abetting human rights abuses. 

The former slaves say they were kidnapped and forced work up to 14 hours a day without pay, while others were beaten and tortured.

The justices requested the government weigh in on whether it should take up the case and they often, though not always, follow the DOJ’s recommendation.

“The United States unequivocally condemns child slavery and those who aid and abet it, and is committed to fostering respect for human rights,” the DOJ told the justices. “This case, however, involves more specific issues,” in particular whether the case is sufficiently connected to the United States to allow for suit there.

At the heart of the case is whether the 1789 Alien Tort Statute, meant to avoid diplomatic tensions, allows for suits in U.S. courts for human rights abuses abroad.