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8 Apr 2022

John O'Brien, Legal Newsline

West Africa: Judge refuses to grant Nestle a motion to dismiss lawsuit over child labour in cocoa supply chain

‘Nestle now to face lawsuit over slave labor in West Africa’ 4 April 2022

After almost three years, plaintiff lawyers have finally come up with a complaint that adequately alleges Nestle falsely labeled products to mislead consumers about the use of child and slave labor in the West African cocoa supply chain. San Diego federal judge James Lorenz refused to grant Nestle’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit on March 28, almost a year after he told lawyers at Coast Law Group, Schonbrun Seplow and Reese LLP to be more specific. When those lawyers included pictures of Nestle products with the allegedly misleading statements, they never said which, if any, were actually purchased by their client. An amended complaint did.

The case is one of many using California consumer protection laws to punish companies that buy cocoa from West Africa, where some cocoa plantations use child and slave labor. The case against Nestle, filed in May 2019, claims plaintiff Renee Walker bought its products based on labels that stated Nestle “supports farmers for better chocolate” and that the company was working to “help improve the lives of cocoa farmers.” Nestle’s advertising references the Nestle Cocoa Plan. “Plaintiff alleges Defendant knew that incidence of child labor increased since the inception of the Nestle Cocoa Plan,” Lorenz’s ruling says.

“The statements on Defendant’s products that the cocoa is ‘sustainably sourced’ based on the ‘Nestle Cocoa Plan,’ which is said to ‘help improve’ the lives of farmers and ‘support’ them, are at odds with the fact that the child labor problem the Nestle Cocoa Plan is said to address has grown more, and not less, severe. “The addition of the UTZ certification enhances the advertising statements by suggesting they are true because they were approved by a third party.”