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7 Dec 2020

Adam Liptak, New York Times

USA: Supreme Court seems ready to limit human rights suits against corporations in Nestlé & Cargill v. Doe case

"Supreme Court Seems Ready to Limit Human Rights Suits Against Corporations", 1st December 2020.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, which has placed strict limits on lawsuits brought in federal court based on human rights abuses abroad, seemed poised on Tuesday to reject a suit accusing two American corporations of complicity in child slavery on Ivory Coast cocoa farms.

The case was brought by six citizens of Mali who said they were trafficked into child slavery as children. They sued Nestlé USA and Cargill, saying the firms had aided and profited from the practice of forced child labor...The plaintiffs sued under the Alien Tort Statute...

In Tuesday’s case, Nestlé USA v. Doe, No. 19-416, the companies sought to expand both sorts of limitations. They said the 1789 law did not allow suits even when some of the defendants’ conduct was said to have taken place in the United States, and they urged the court to bar suits under the law against all corporations, whether foreign or domestic.

They seemed likely to succeed, but on narrower grounds. Justices across the ideological spectrum questioned whether the plaintiffs’ lawsuit had sufficiently tied the defendants to the abuses they said they had suffered...

“When I read through your complaint,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer told Mr. Hoffman, “it seemed to me that all or virtually all of your complaint amount to doing business with these people. They help pay for the farm. And that’s about it. And they knowingly do it.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said even that overstated matters, as the lawsuit, first filed in 2005, said only that the companies knew or should have known of the practices.

“After 15 years, is it too much to ask that you allege specifically that the defendants involved, the defendants who are before us here, specifically knew that forced child labor was being used on the farms or farm cooperatives with which they did business?” he asked Mr. Hoffman...