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14 Jul 2005

Nestlé, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland lawsuit (re Côte d'Ivoire)


Date lawsuit was filed
14 Jul 2005
Location of Filing: United States of America
Location of Incident: Côte d'Ivoire
Type of Litigation: Transnational


Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) United States of America Agriculture & livestock
Cargill United States of America Food & beverage
Nestlé Switzerland Food & beverage


Snapshot: In 2005, three individuals from Mali and an NGO filed a class action lawsuit in the USA against Nestlé, Archer Daniels Midland, and Cargill alleging they had been trafficked from Mali as child slaves and forced to work in the Côte d'Ivoire on plantations which supplied the companies. They further alleged the companies aided and abetted their torture and ill treatment at these plantations. The case is ongoing. 

Pour la version française de ce profil, cliquez ici.

Factual Background

Three individual plaintiffs alleged they had been trafficked from Mali as child slaves and forced to work harvesting and/or cultivating cocoa beans on farms in Côte d’Ivoire. The plaintiffs allege that they were forced to work long hours without pay, kept in locked rooms when not working and suffered severe physical abuse by those guarding them.

Legal Argument

The plaintiffs allege that the companies aided, abetted or failed to prevent the torture, forced labour and arbitrary detention that they had suffered as child slaves.  The lawsuit alleges violations of the Alien Tort Claims Act, Torture Victim Protection Act, US Constitution and California state law.  The plaintiffs further claimed that the companies’ economic benefit from the labour of children violates international labour conventions, the law of nations and customary international law. 

Legal Proceeding

On 14 July 2005, three individuals from Mali and Global Exchange (a human rights organization) filed a class action lawsuit in California federal court against Nestlé, Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill.  

In August 2005, Nestlé filed a motion to force the disclosure of the names of the former child slave plaintiffs, which was opposed by the plaintiffs.  In addition, the defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the case.  On 27 July 2006, the court ordered further briefings to be filed on various issues related to aiding and abetting standards.  On 8 September 2010 the court dismissed the case finding that the case could not be brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act.  The court concluded that existing authorities did not demonstrate that corporate liability was sufficiently well established and universal to satisfy a claim under the Alien Tort Claims Act.  The plaintiffs appealed the dismissal.  In December 2013, a federal appeals court overturned the 2010 ruling and allowed the plaintiffs to refile the lawsuit.  In September 2014, the federal appeals court replaced its December 2013 opinion with an expanded one reversing and vacating the lower court's dismissal of the case. The new opinion sets forth expanded reasoning for allowing the plaintiffs to amend their complaint to show the connection their claims have to the United States to address the US Supreme Court's holding in Kiobel v. Shell. The court found that the plaintiffs have standing to bring their Alien Tort case because of the universal prohibition against slavery.  In September 2015, the defendants petitioned the Supreme Court to throw out the federal appeals court’s ruling and want it to decide if companies are subject to liability under the Alien Tort Claims Act.  In January 2016 the Supreme Court declined to hear the companies' appeal.

In July 2016, the plaintiffs submitted an amended complaint.  In March 2017, a judge dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the plaintiffs could not sue over forced labour in Côte d'Ivoire when they could not prove that there was conduct by the companies in the US linked to the wrongdoing overseas.  On 30 March 2017, the plaintiffs filed an appeal, arguing that Nestle's and Cargill's decisions to give the cocoa farmers money and technical support were made at the companies’ US headquarters and, therefore, the lawsuit had a sufficient link to the US. On 23 October 2018, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal allowed the lawsuit against Nestle and Cargill under the Alien Tort Statute to proceed.

In January 2020, the US Supreme Court signaled interest in hearing the case when they asked the Trump administration for advice on whether they should take the case. Nestlé and Cargill have requested that the Supreme Court end the suit against them.

In July 2020, the Supreme Court said it will hear the case. The Trump administration has submitted an amicus brief arguing domestic corporations are not subject to liability under the Alien Tort Statute. Several civil society organisations have submitted amicus curiae briefs asking the Supreme Court to uphold corporate liability under the Statute.

In June 2021, the Supreme Court, in a divided opinion, dismissed the claim and remanded to trial court where the plaintiffs will seek to amend their complaint. In the opinion, eight judges of the Supreme Court concluded that the complaint did not satisfy the standard set in the Kiobel case for the extraterritorial application of the Alien Tort Statute. In a majority opinion for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that "[t]he Ninth Circuit erred by allowing this suit to proceed” on the basis that the companies allegedly made "major operational decisions" in the US."

News Items

-US Supreme Court backs Nestle, Cargill in child slave labour suit, Associated Press, 17 Jun 2021

- "US could become ‘safe haven’ for corporate abusers, activists warn," The Guardian, 5 August 2020
- "U.S. Supreme Court takes up Nestle, Cargill appeals over human rights claims," Reuters, 2 July 2020
- "U.S. Supreme Court signals interest in child-slavery cocoa lawsuit," Bloomberg, 14 Jan 2020
- "Chocolatiers Face Tough Slog in Slave Labor Appeal", Helen Christophi, Courthouse News, 7 June 2018
- "Nestle, Cargill Win Dismissal of Ex-Child Slaves' Lawsuit", Edvard Pettersson, Bloomberg, 10 Mar 2017
- "Child Slavery Claims Against Nestle, Cargill Get One More Chance", Edvard Pettersson, Bloomberg, 9 Jan 2017
- "US Supreme Ct. rejects Nestlé, ADM & Cargill's bid to dismiss Alien Tort case alleging complicity in forced child labour", Lawrence Hurley, Reuters, 11 Jan 2016
- "9th Circuit Digs Into Nestle Child Slavery Suit", Courthouse News Service (USA), 5 Sep 2014
Ivory Coast says its cocoa not tainted by slavery”, Reuters, 13 Feb 2006
-[FR] « Nestlé, Archer Daniels Midland et Cargill attaquées pour travail des enfants » GRESEA, 28 septembre 2005
- “U.S. companies sued in Calif. over child labor claims”, Reuters, 16 Jul 2005

Company Documents

- Nestlé S.A.: [PDF] The Cocoa Plan: Nestlé and sustainable cocoa
- Archer Daniels Midland: [PDF] ADM Supports Responsible Cocoa Farming, 7 Feb 2006
- Cargill: Responsible Cocoa Sourcing and Production

Plaintiff & NGO Documents

- Global Exchange: “Nestle Taken to Court for Trafficking, Torture, and Beatings of Child Laborers on West African Cocoa Farms,” 03 Feb 2006

International Rights Advocates (co-counsel for plaintiffs):

-U.S. Supreme Court Dismisses Claims Against Nestlé and Cargill and Remands to Trial Court, 17 Jun 2021
- Nestle, Archers Daniel Midland, and Cargill [summary of case, includes links to certain legal documents]
Plaintiffs' Notice of Appeal, 30 Mar 2017
- IRAdvocates file second amended complaint in Nestle in an attempt to bring justice to former child slaves in West Africa, 15 Jul 2016
- Amended complaint, 14 Jul 2016

Court Documents

Nestle USA v. Doe et al., US Supreme Court, 17 Jun 2021

Doe v. Nestlé et al., US District Court, Central District of California
- [PDF] Order granting defendants' motion to dismiss, 2 Mar 2017

Doe v. Nestlé et al., US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
- [PDF] Order reversing lower court's dismissal, 4 Sep 2014
- [PDF] Brief of amicus curiae EarthRights International in support of Plaintiffs/Appellants, 1 Jul 2011
- [PDF] Defendants' answering brief, 30 Sep 2011
- [PDF] Plaintiffs' opening brief, 24 Jun 2011

Doe v. Nestlé et al., US District Court, Central District of California
- [PDF] Order granting defendants' motion to dismiss, 8 Sep 2010
- [PDF] First amended complaint, 22 Jul 2009
- [PDF] Declaration of Herman N. (Rusty) Johnson in Support of Plaintiffs’ Supplementary Brief [with information about company sourcing practices], 9 Aug 2006
- [PDF] Defendants’ Joint Opening Brief in Response to Court’s July 27, 2006 Order, 9 Aug 2006
- [PDF] Declaration in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, 2 Jan 2006
- [PDF] Individuals (John Doe I, II & III) and Global Exchange, v. Nestle, Archers Daniels Midland, Cargill, et al. , 14 Jul 2005 [complaint]