Categories for Corporate Responsibility

Nestlé & Cargill v. Doe Series: Corporate Liability, Child Slavery, and the Chocolate Industry – A Preview of the Case

December 31, 2020

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a Just Security series on the consolidated cases of Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe I and Cargill Inc. v. Doe I, which was argued before the Supreme Court on Dec. 1. The introduction to the series and all other articles can be found here.]

The world’s chocolate supply is undergirded by rampant practices of child labor under extremely hazardous conditions and, in some cases, slavery. According to the U.S. Bureau of International Labor Affairs, cocoa plantations in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana combine to produce 60 percent of the world’s cocoa. These plantations rely heavily on the labor of 2 million children working in hazardous conditions. Thousands of these child laborers are trafficked or forced into the work and may not be compensated for their labor, conditions amounting to slavery.

The international community has struggled to address this issue for years. In 2001, Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) and then-Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) drafted legislation to require a “slave free” label for chocolate products sold in the United States. The chocolate industry lobbied successfully to defeat the proposal and instead negotiated the Harkin-Engel Protocol. This international agreement was signed by the Chocolate Manufacturers Association; the World Cocoa Foundation;  Engel and Harkin, and then-Senator Herbert Kohl (D-WI); an ambassador from Côte d’Ivoire; representatives of various NGOs; and leaders of eight major chocolate corporations, including Nestlé (at pages 3-9, 16). It sought to compel the chocolate industry to eliminate the worst forms of child labor and forced labor as defined by International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions 29 and 182. (The latter defines the “worst forms of child labor” as subjecting children to all forms of slavery and practices similar to slavery, trafficking, prostitution, pornography, the production and trafficking of illicit substances, and work that will harm their health, safety, or morals, which includes hazardous forms of agricultural work.) However, the industry failed repeatedly to meet the benchmarks introduced by the Protocol, in part because it relied on self-regulation.

In 2010, responding to the inefficacy of the Harkin-Engel Protocol, representatives of the United States, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire released a Framework of Action to Support Implementation of the Harkin-Engel Protocol. This public declaration committed the signatories to reduce child labor in the Ghanaian and Ivorian cocoa industries by 70 percent by 2020 and pledged $10 million from the U.S. Department of Labor and $7 million from the cocoa industry to achieve that goal. In support of the framework, the ILO entered into a partnership with eight companies in the chocolate and cocoa industry, including Nestlé and Cargill, to contribute $2 million toward the eradication of child slavery.

Despite these efforts, the problem is only worsening. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2020 report identified a 14 percent increase in the prevalence of child labor in Ghanaian and Ivorian agrarian households from 2009 to 2019. This leap reflects the simple fact that business is booming: the report found that cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana increased by over 60 percent over the same period. In light of these well-documented abuses and the lack of progress by the industry to eradicate child labor, victims have sought redress against U.S. corporations for their complicity in these human rights violations, culminating in the Nestlé/Cargill litigation.

To read the full story by Chris Moxley on Just Security: Click Here

Rape, Abuses in Palm Oil Fields Linked to Top Beauty Brands

December 11, 2020

SUMATRA, Indonesia (AP) — With his hand clamped tightly over her mouth, she could not scream, the 16-year-old girl recalls – and no one was around to hear her anyway. She describes how her boss raped her amid the tall trees on an Indonesian palm oil plantation that feeds into some of the world’s best-known cosmetic brands. He then put an ax to her throat and warned her: Do not tell.

At another plantation, a woman named Ola complains of fevers, coughing and nose bleeds after years of spraying dangerous pesticides with no protective gear. Making just $2 a day, with no health benefits, she can’t afford to see a doctor.

Hundreds of miles away, Ita, a young wife, mourns the two babies she lost in the third trimester. She regularly lugged loads several times her weight throughout both pregnancies, fearing she would be fired if she did not.

These are the invisible women of the palm oil industry, among the millions of daughters, mothers and grandmothers who toil on vast plantations across Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia, which together produce 85 percent of the world’s most versatile vegetable oil.

Palm oil is found in everything from potato chips and pills to pet food, and also ends up in the supply chains of some of the biggest names in the $530 billion beauty business, including L’Oréal, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Avon and Johnson & Johnson, helping women around the world feel pampered and beautiful.

To read the full story by Margie Mason and Robin Mcdowell on APNews: Click Here

Palm Oil Labor Abuses Linked To World’s Top Brands, Banks

November 12, 2020

PENINSULAR MALAYSIA (AP) — Jum’s words tumble out over the phone, his voice growing ever more frantic.

Between sobs, he says he’s trapped on a Malaysian plantation run by government-owned Felda, one of the world’s largest palm oil companies. His boss confiscated and then lost his Indonesian passport, he says, leaving him vulnerable to arrest. Night after night, he has been forced to hide from authorities, sleeping on the jungle floor, exposed to the wind and the rain. His biggest fear: the roaming tigers.

All the while, Jum says his supervisor demanded he keep working, tending the heavy reddish-orange palm oil fruit that has made its way into the supply chains of the planet’s most iconic food and cosmetics companies like Unilever, L’Oreal, Nestle and Procter & Gamble.

“I am not a free man anymore,” he says, his voice cracking. “I desperately want to see my mom and dad. I want to go home!”

An Associated Press investigation found many like Jum in Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia – an invisible workforce consisting of millions of laborers from some of the poorest corners of Asia, many of them enduring various forms of exploitation, with the most serious abuses including child labor, outright slavery and allegations of rape. Together, the two countries produce about 85 percent of the world’s estimated $65 billion palm oil supply.

Palm oil is virtually impossible to avoid. Often disguised on labels as an ingredient listed by more than 200 names, it can be found in roughly half the products on supermarket shelves and in most cosmetic brands. It’s in paints, plywood, pesticides and pills. It’s also present in animal feed, biofuels and even hand sanitizer.

The AP interviewed more than 130 current and former workers from two dozen palm oil companies who came from eight countries and labored on plantations across wide swaths of Malaysia and Indonesia. Almost all had complaints about their treatment, with some saying they were cheated, threatened, held against their will or forced to work off unsurmountable debts. Others said they were regularly harassed by authorities, swept up in raids and detained in government facilities.

They included members of Myanmar’s long-persecuted Rohingya minority, who fled ethnic cleansing in their homeland only to be sold into the palm oil industry. Fishermen who escaped years of slavery on boats also described coming ashore in search of help, but instead ending up being trafficked onto plantations — sometimes with police involvement.

The AP used the most recently published data from producers, traders and buyers of the world’s most-consumed vegetable oil, as well as U.S. Customs records, to link the laborers’ palm oil and its derivatives from the mills that process it to the supply chains of top Western companies like the makers of Oreo cookies, Lysol cleaners and Hershey’s chocolate treats.

To read the full story By Margie Mason and Robin McDowell on The Associated Press: Click Here

Nestle and Cargill Claim Right to Profit from Child Slavery Without Accountability

October 20, 2020

September 2, Washington, D.C.–This week, agriculture giants Nestlé and Cargill submitted briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court in the cases Nestlé USA Inc. vs John Doe 1 and Cargill Inc. v. John Doe 1 arguing that they have immunity from responsibility for human rights abuses alleged by former child slave laborers on cocoa farms on the Ivory Coast of Africa. The plaintiffs sued under the federal Alien Tort Statute, which allows lawsuits for violations of international law.

Marco Simons, General Counsel of the human rights and climate justice organization EarthRights International issued the following statement in response:

“Nestlé and Cargill are trying to avoid legal responsibility for slave labor, claiming that because they are corporations, they simply cannot be held responsible. Even though slavery has been banned by international law since the 19th Century, they argue that only human beings–not corporations–can be sued for slavery. So even if they profit from child slavery, the children who escape this bondage cannot hold them accountable.

“The majority of the world’s cocoa supply is grown on the Ivory Coast, supplying vast amounts to companies like Nestlé and Cargill, leading manufacturers of chocolate. According to the plaintiffs, the companies were aware that plantations in their supply chains used child slave labor. Both companies hold enormous sway over the industry there and had plenty of leverage to stop the abuses. The companies had exclusive buying contracts with cocoa growers, regularly visited cacao plantations, and provided financial support, training, and farm supplies. The children who escaped this system sued them, arguing that the companies could have stopped the use of forced labor, but did not.

To read the full story by Kate Fried on Earthrights International: Click Here

UPS And Metro United Way Join To Fight Human Trafficking In Louisville And Other Cities

October 8, 2020

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Crammed into a single motel room with three adults, a dozen youngsters were sent into the streets to sell candy. The sales team put in long hours and stayed out well past dark. They were told to pay for their own food with $2 to $3 an hour in pay — and had to deliver cash to their bosses daily.

The arrest of Shawn Floyd, an Indianapolis man charged a year ago with multiple felony human trafficking charges in Bowling Green, according to court records, drew little notice until the Kentucky Attorney General’s office levied more serious charges in February.

The allegations of forced labor and child exploitation — one kid was just 10 years old — highlight a rising concern among advocates in Louisville and across the country. They worry that the global pandemic and its economic devastation are creating a dangerous confluence of risk factors.

To read the full story by Grace Schneier on The Louisville Courier Journal: Click Here

Penske Joins Fight Against Human Trafficking by Supporting Truckers Against Trafficking

October 6, 2020

READING, Pa.Aug. 31, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Penske Transportation Solutions has signed-on to support and sponsor the Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) organization, a nonprofit organization that exists to educate, equip, empower and mobilize members of the trucking, bus and energy industries to combat human trafficking.

Penske has also committed to certifying its over 5,500 truck drivers with TAT training. TAT provides companies with a training video as well as wallet cards that educate drivers on the signs of human trafficking and what a driver should do if they suspect it.

“This is an extremely important cause and we are honored to join with others in our industry to support an organization whose mission is so critical,” explained Brian Hard, president & CEO of Penske Transportation Solutions. “We are looking forward to providing our drivers with the tools they need to identify and report possible trafficking cases. We are aligned with TAT’s overarching goal to saturate the trucking industry with educational information and ultimately combat this horrific crime.”

Human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states, and victims are often found in locations frequented by truckers. Through its corporate partnerships, TAT is raising up a mobilized army of transportation professionals to assist law enforcement in recognizing and reporting this crime in order to assist victims and bring their perpetrators to justice.

To read the full story on PR Newswire: Click Here

Catholic Sisters Lead the Way in the Anti-Trafficking Movement

July 29, 2020

Human trafficking has many faces. Imagine a teenage girl pressured into prostitution by her boyfriend to pay the rent; a foreign national tricked into domestic servitude with promises of a better life; a fisherman trapped at sea working for wages that never materialize. These are just a few accounts of the estimated 40 million people who are enslaved across the world today.

July 30 marks the United Nations’ World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, a time to raise awareness around human trafficking and amplify efforts to stop it. With the COVID-19 pandemic contributing to the retraumatization of survivors and increasing risk among individuals experiencing disadvantage, the need is even greater to shine a light on the work Catholic sisters are doing to address the realities of human trafficking, both domestically and abroad.

Catholic sisters from the Los Angeles area demonstrate against human trafficking in Hollywood, California.

Catholic sisters from the Los Angeles area demonstrate against human trafficking in Hollywood, California. Front to back: Sr. Eleanor Ortega, Sr. Judy Molosky, Sr. Celia DuRea, Sr. Suzanne Jabro and Sr. Margaret Farrell. Photo by Lisa Kristine, courtesy of Talitha Kum

Human trafficking is commonly defined as the exploitation of another human being for commercial sex or labor through the use of force, fraud or coercion. Broader characterizations include child soldiers, the sale of organs and forced marriage. Human trafficking is notoriously difficult to expose, and yet the International Labor Organization estimates that it is a $150 billion criminal enterprise – the third largest illegal activity in the world, behind drug trafficking and arms dealing. Traffickers may elude authorities by crossing international borders, or they may be part of domestic networks that crisscross regional lines.

Although many people are just beginning to recognize human trafficking as a critical human rights issue, Catholic sisters have championed the anti-trafficking movement since the first widely recognized case of human trafficking in the United States surfaced over 20 years ago. In 1995, over 70 Thai nationals were found enslaved in a makeshift garment factory in El Monte, CA, shocking an array of human rights leaders, including sisters in the Los Angeles area. Sister-led ministries, such as the Good Shepherd Shelter and Alexandria House, as well as congregations, such as the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, all rallied around survivors. Nonprofits, such as the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (Cast), were founded to support anti-slavery efforts.

Today, Cast is a well-known anti-trafficking organization that has received accolades from the U.S. State Department and the United Nations. However, when Cast first began, Catholic sisters were among its only allies. While others didn’t want to believe that slavery still exists or were afraid of getting involved, sisters immediately recognized the significance of this issue and provided trafficking survivors with long-term shelter in their houses and convents. As the anti-trafficking movement has grown, Catholic sisters have faithfully led the way. Sisters, who serve people without regard to religious beliefs, provided Cast with the first shelter in the U.S. exclusively dedicated to trafficking survivors, who have distinct needs due to the nature of the trauma they have experienced.

At an international level, Catholic sisters have also pioneered the prioritization of human trafficking as a top line issue. In 1998, the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), the worldwide leadership association of Catholic sisters, initiated a formal study of and collaborative effort against trafficking in persons. Two years later, the United Nations adopted its landmark Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons. Within six months of the UN resolution, the UISG officially made a commitment to address human trafficking “insistently and at every level” through working in solidarity with other congregations across the world. Catholic sisters have taken this mandate to heart. Today, UISG ministry Talitha Kum has an active membership of 2,600 sisters and their collaborators located in 92 countries, making it the largest anti-human trafficking network in the world.

To read the full story by Sabrina Wong on The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation site: Click Here

Houston Now Requires Hotels To Train Employees To Spot Human Trafficking

June 29, 2020

Houston hotels and motels must train their employees on how to spot human trafficking and contact law enforcement under an ordinance approved by city council Wednesday.

The mandate also requires the businesses keep records of the training, which they must produce within three days upon request by the city. All 524 Houston hotels and motels also must post signs that list common indicators of trafficking, along with phone numbers for local and national law enforcement and other information.

To read the full story by Dylan McGuinness on The Houston Chronicle: Click Here

Airbnb Expands Pledge To Fight Human Trafficking Amid Hospitality Industry Struggles

March 26, 2020

Airbnb is expanding its commitment to fight human trafficking with anti-trafficking nonprofit Polaris as the hospitality industry faces a series of lawsuits claiming it’s not doing enough to curb the crime.

The work is pressing: Nearly 25 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, according to Polaris. Human trafficking can include everything from sexual exploitation to forced labor.

Of 383 U.S. sex trafficking cases that listed where a commercial sex act took place, 81.5% were at a hotel, according to a 2018 study from the Fairfax, Virginia-based Human Trafficking Institute.  

Airbnb has reportedly seen a variety of sex trafficking crimes at rentals: A runaway teenage girl coerced into sex acts; a 29-year-old man arrested following an underage girl found at a rental in Utah; and an alleged increase in cases in Toronto.

A chief problem in tackling human trafficking is that it is a data-poor field. “What we know about is likely the very tip of the iceberg in all forms of trafficking,” Caren Benjamin, chief communications officer at Polaris, told USA TODAY. Polaris has operated the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline for over a decade and worked on nearly 11,000 cases of human trafficking in 2018.

Airbnb’s new plan is an expansion of work that started in 2018, when the company worked with Polaris to create a training curriculum for Airbnb’s safety agents and crisis managers across the world. These employees handle safety concerns regarding reservations — whether trafficking allegations or weapon concerns, they are trained to deal with sensitive situations. This 2018 effort included training on everything from spotting signs of exploitation to how to best work with law enforcement.

To read the full story by David Oliver on USA Today: Click Here

March, 2020 Newsletter

March 3, 2020

Focus of this issue:

The National Center for Sexual Exploitation’s Annual List

No mainstream entity should profit from or facilitate sexual exploitation. Unfortunately, many well-established brands, companies, and organizations in America do just that. The March Stop Trafficking newsletter highlights the National Center for Sexual Exploitation annual list of entities they deem worthy to name and shame.

To view the current issue: Click Here

Stop Trafficking Newsletter is produced by US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, to serve as a forum for exchange among religious congregations and their collaborating organizations:

  • to promote awareness regarding human trafficking;
  • to exchange best practices in advocacy for and empowerment of survivors of human trafficking;
  • to recommend actions to counter human trafficking;
  • to share information about survivor services.

We are grateful for all of the sponsors of the Stop Trafficking Newsletter. For the list of our sponsors: Click Here

If your community is not currently a sponsor but would like to be, please contact Jennifer Reyes Lay.