Africa: Mars has no legal duty to disclose information about possible forced child labor on its product labels, rules court

Author: Bob Egelko, (Etats-Unis), Published on: 11 June 2018

"Mars bars don’t need possible slave labor warning on wrapper, court rules", 6 June 2018

Some of the cocoa in Mars chocolate bars may be the product of slave labor by children in Africa, but the company has no legal duty to disclose that information on its product labels, a federal appeals court has ruled. A lawsuit filed in San Francisco in 2015 accused Mars Inc. of violating California truth-in-labeling laws. The company gets some of its cocoa beans from Ivory Coast, where the International Labor Organization says cocoa production involves “the worst forms of child labor.” U.S. labor officials have reported that some children working in the industry have been kidnapped, or sold by their parents to traffickers, and then are forced to perform hazardous tasks. A 2010 California law has required Mars to disclose on its website its efforts to combat slavery and labor abuses. The company’s website currently describes forced labor as “the human rights issue that may pose the most severe risk to people in our supply chain,” and says Mars has an “action-oriented framework” to improve conditions but gives no details...The Bay Area resident’s suit, drafted as a class action, alleged that consumers would pay less for Mars chocolates, or would not buy them, if their labels mentioned slave labor. The suit claimed the nondisclosure violates state laws against “unlawful, unfair or fraudulent” business practices. In a ruling Monday, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said many consumers now consider a company’s labor practices when buying household products, and some manufacturers are informing customers that their products are free of labor abuses. But the court said California law, as interpreted by both state and federal courts, does not require a company to label its products as possibly being produced by child or slave labor. The court cited its own 2012 ruling that said manufacturers have a duty to disclose labor practices in their supply chain only when those practices cause an “unreasonable safety hazard” to consumers. Some California appellate courts have interpreted the labeling requirements more broadly, mandating disclosure of defects that a “reasonable consumer” would consider important in making purchasing decisions. But the federal court said those rulings apply only to physical defects that “relate to a product’s central function.” In this case, Mars’ “alleged lack of disclosure about the existence of slave labor in the supply chain is not a physical defect at all, much less one related to the chocolate’s function as chocolate,” Judge A. Wallace Tashima said in a 3-0 ruling upholding a federal judge’s dismissal of the suit. Similar suits against Nestlé and Hershey’s, filed in San Francisco by the same law firm, have also been dismissed by a federal magistrate...Mars said it was pleased with the ruling. “We have never condoned the use of forced labor — or any human rights abuses — in our supply chain and continue to combat this disturbing and complex problem working with international organizations, governments and (nongovernmental organizations),” said a representative for the company. “But Mars believes that consumer class-action litigation does not aid the concerted efforts to eradicate these practices, because it offers no solution to the underlying human rights issues.”


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Related companies: Haribo Hershey Mars Nestlé