Nestlé lawsuit (re forced labour in Thai fishing industry)

Thai fishing boatIn August 2015, consumers filed a class action against Nestlé in California.  They alleged that Nestlé had violated consumer protection laws by failing to disclose that ingredients in its cat food products may have been sourced using forced labour.  Nestlé argued that it met its legal requirements.  Nestlé's lawyer, Daniel Herling, said elsewhere that under California’s safe harbour doctrine “all we have to do is disclose our efforts to ensure compliance, but we don’t have to disclose every single instance.”

On 9 December 2015, the court dismissed the lawsuit, and found that the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act provides companies with a safe harbour. This means that a company only has to disclose the efforts it is making to prevent forced labour, and it is not obligated to disclose the actual risk of forced labour in its supply chain.

The plaintiffs have appealed the decision.

 

- US court rules in favour of Nestlé in case alleging forced labour in Thailand under Transparency in Supply Chains Act, Emma Gallimore, Legal Newsline, 19 Feb 2016
- Plaintiff loses challenge to Calif. law in forced labor case over Fancy Feast, appeal to Ninth Circuit, Emma Gallimore, Legal Newsline, 27 Jan 2016
- Nestle Accused of Putting Fish From Slave Labor in Cat Food, Edvard Pettersson, Bloomberg Business, 27 Aug 2015

Statement by Nestlé:
- After US lawsuit linked to cat food, Nestle says forced labor has no place in its supply chain, Associated Press, 30 Aug 2015

Hagens Berman (plaintiffs’ lawyer):
- Cat Food - Slave Labor
- Class Action Complaint for Violation of California Consumer Protection Laws, 25 Aug 2015

- Barber et al v. Nestlé USA, INC. and Nestlé Purina Petcare co., Cormac J. Carney, United States District Judge, 9 Dec 2015

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Article
11 April 2016

Why does company disclosure matter under the Modern Slavery Act? Lessons from California and the Barber V Nestle USA Case

Author: Colleen Theron, CLT Envirolaw

...Why does company disclosure matter under the Modern Slavery Act?...UK companies that are beginning to consider what information they should be disclosing in their modern slavery statements should take into account what the court’s are saying in the US. It is clear that as neither the MSA or the California Act mandate that companies prove that they have stopped modern slavery in their supply chains, instead they have to provide information on what steps they have taken...

What should companies be considering in light of this case? 1. The likelihood of litigation arising as a result of forced labour/ modern slavery in companies supply chains is increasing; 2. The provision to disclose what steps are being taken in both the Supply Chains Act and the Modern Slavery Act are voluntary and do not require that companies can prove that they have eradicated modern slavery; 3. The statements companies make should form the basis of any defence in instances where misrepresentation is alleged; 4. Provided a company can underpin its statements with robust and appropriate policies and procedures it will be in a better position to defend itself.

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Article
19 February 2016

US court rules in favour of Nestlé in case alleging forced labour in Thailand under Transparency in Supply Chains Act

Author: Emma Gallimore, Legal Newsline (USA)

“Plaintiff loses challenge to Calif. law in forced labor case over Fancy Feast, appeal to Ninth Circuit”, 27 Jan 2016

Plaintiff Melanie Barber has…lost the first in what is likely to be a wave of class action lawsuits challenging California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act…In Barber v. Nestle USA, Barber alleged that Nestle had violated consumer protection statutes by failing to disclose that some ingredients in its cat food products might have been sourced using forced labor…“Both parties acknowledge that some proportion of the small fishing ships use forced labor, but that it is virtually impossible to say how pervasive the problem is.”…“The law says all we have to do is disclose our efforts to ensure compliance, but we don’t have to disclose every single instance”.  The court agreed with Nestle, finding that Nestle’s disclosures were protected under California’s safe harbor doctrine…[T]he California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010…requires any retailer doing business in California and also having annual worldwide gross receipts exceeding $100 million to specifically disclose efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking as related to its supply chain…“This law is not to clean up or straighten out supply chains,”…“But rather you have to disclose what efforts they’re taking”…Barber has appealed the decision…

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Company response
1 September 2015

Nestlé response

Author: Nestle

Forced labour has no place in our supply chain. Our mandatory Nestlé Supplier Code and Responsible Sourcing Guideline (RSG) on Fish and Seafood require all of our suppliers to respect human rights and to comply with all applicable labour laws. 

The elimination of forced labour in our seafood supply chain is a shared responsibility and we are committed to working with global and local stakeholders to tackle this serious and complex issue. Southeast Asia’s supply chain issues call for proactive and concerted efforts to identify and eradicate instances of forced labour that cannot be properly addressed through lawsuits such as the one recently filed in the US. 

Over the past 12 months, we have been working with the independent supply chain consultancy Achilles to better understand the multi layered supply chain in the Thai seafood industry which supplies some ingredients for our products...

Download the full document here

Article
30 August 2015

After US lawsuit linked to cat food, Nestle says forced labor has no place in its supply chain

Author: Associated Press

Nestle says "forced labor has no place in our supply chain" following a U.S. class action lawsuit that alleges the Swiss food company knowingly supported a system of slave labor and human trafficking to make its Fancy Feast cat food. Nestle didn't deny the allegations in an email...to The Associated Press but said its guidelines require suppliers to respect human rights. It outlined steps Nestle has taken to rid forced labor from its seafood supply chain...

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Article
27 August 2015

Hagens Berman: Class Action Filed against Nestlé for Slave Labor, Human Trafficking Used to Produce Top-Selling Pet Food

Author: Hagens Berman

A nationwide class of pet food purchasers today filed a lawsuit against Nestlé SA alleging that the pet food manufacturer knowingly supports a system of slave labor and human trafficking to produce its Fancy Feast cat food, while hiding its involvement with human rights violations from the public, according to attorneys at Hagens Berman. The lawsuit alleges that Nestlé works with a Thai partner, Thai Union Frozen Products PCL, to import more than 28 million pounds of seafood-based pet food for top brands sold in America – some ingredients of which were obtained through slave labor.

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