Hershey lawsuit (re child labour in Côte d’Ivoire, filed in Massachusetts, USA)
Snapshot: In 2015 and 2018, American consumers filed two separate class action lawsuits against The Hershey Company (Hershey’s), in California and Massachusetts U.S. district courts respectively. The claimants allege that the company violated these states’ consumer protection laws by not disclosing that their cocoa suppliers in Côte d’Ivoire rely on child labour. In both cases, federal judges dismissed the cases, ruling that the claims were not actionable under the consumer protection laws invoked.
For lawsuit in California, see Hershey lawsuit (re child labour in Côte d’Ivoire, filed in California)
Massachusetts lawsuit (Tomasella v. The Hershey Company et al., 2018)
Following the dismissal of the California lawsuit, the same law firm filed a class action lawsuit against Hershey's on behalf of Danell Tomasella and consumers in front of the US district court for the Northern District of Massachusetts. The claimants allege that Hershey's is misleading consumers and profiting from child labour by not disclosing that their cocoa suppliers in Côte d'Ivoire rely on the worst forms of child labour. This claim relies on the argument that Hershey's human rights, sustainability and corporate responsibility statements - which assert the company's "zero tolerance" for trafficking and child labour - constitute a violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act.
The claimants allege that Hershey's was aware of the risks of child labour in its supply chain, failed to disclose this information at the time of sale, and that consumers were therefore deceived into buying a product that they otherwise would not have bought. The claimants do not refer to specific instances of child labour in the company's supply chain, but rely on reports citing the extensive use of child labour in cocoa production in Côte d'Ivoire and on Hershey's public disclosures that the country is one of their primary sources of cocoa.
On 19 April 2018, Hershey's filed a motion to dismiss and argued that Massachusetts law does not force companies to disclose the presence of slave labour at the time of sale, and that to do so would be "impractical". The company further claims that it has publicly disclosed information about labour practices of its suppliers in West Africa and has been transparent about the steps taken to address these issues.
In January 2019, a federal judge in Boston dismissed the lawsuit because the consumers' claims were not actionable under Massachusetts law and they failed to show that the companies deceived them.
In June 2020, the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the class action lawsuit, alongside similar lawsuits filed against Nestle USA Inc and Mars Inc, accusing the companies of misleading consumers by failing to disclose use of child labour by their suppliers on their products' labels.
- Circuit upholds dismissal of cocoa child labor class action, Reuters with Westlaw, 17 June 2020
- Nestlé, Hershey say no room for child labor on labels, Law360 [subscription required], 20 April 2018
- Consumers bring child labour claim against Hershey’s, Coffee & Cocoa International, 3 April 2018
- New Human Rights Case Alleging Deception of Consumers Filed Against Food Companies (This Time on the East Coast), JD Supra, 7 March 2018
- Hagens Berman: Chocolate Makers Hershey’s and Mars Hit with Lawsuits over Alleged Use of Child and Slave Labor, BusinessWire, 26 Feb 2018
- Shared Goodness: Hershey’s 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, Hershey's, 2017
- Shared Goodness: Hershey’s 2015 Corporate Social Responsibility Report Highlights, Hershey's, 2016
- Tomasella v. The Hershey Company et al. [subscription required, all court documents]