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
August 1, 2019
Better Companies, Better World
Linda Haydock, SNJM
To change corporate business practices on human trafficking is a long-term, demanding, and often daunting task. Let us celebrate the progress we have made.
A powerful alliance is formed when religious women and men, ecumenical and interfaith groups, and non-profit partners bring their faith to bear in the boardrooms of the largest corporations in the world. In twenty years, there are many accomplishments in addressing human trafficking through shareholder advocacy.
Four areas are noteworthy:
- Major movement to stem human trafficking in the tourism industry;
- Success in reducing human trafficking in the business supply chain;
- An emerging call to the tech sector for vigilance concerning child exploitation online;
- Companies adopting ethical recruitment policies and practices.
Many years and many partnerships have been devoted to addressing sex trafficking taking place in hotels and through airline travel. The result is that almost every major hotel chain has signed the “The Code” to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. Nearly one million employees have received training to prevent exploitation; identify and report suspected cases of human trafficking, and to support children’s rights. American and Delta airlines are among those who trained employees, publish notices about human trafficking in their onboard magazines or engaged in efforts to protect children. The next plane you board, ask the flight attendant if she/he has received training about human trafficking.
It is a challenge to keep a careful watch on the corporate supply chain from the sourcing of raw materials to the finished product. Shareholder resolutions and dialogues with numerous companies have created accountability. What does a win-win-win look like for vulnerable people, shareholders and companies?
An example is The Hershey Company. What is not to like about chocolate? Child labor! It was religious shareholders’ concern twelve years ago about child labor on the cocoa farms in the African countries of Ghana and the Ivory Coast that prompted dialogue with Hershey. These many years later we celebrate Hershey’s commitment to 100% certifiable and sustainable cocoa by 2020, which is free of child labor; the $500 million “Cocoa for Good Program” to nourish and empower children and preserve natural eco-systems in the Ivory Coast and Ghana; and the adoption of a Human Rights Policy that includes ethical recruitment.
Whether it concerns our food, clothes or household products, it is incumbent upon each of us to raise our consciousness about the human story in the supply chain. Judy Byron, OP, invites us to ask, “Could I have a human trafficking footprint?” When I put on a shirt in the morning or make a food choice for my evening meal, it is an opportunity to reflect on the story behind the label. A choice of “Fair Trade” can ensure that one is contributing to the dignity of workers.
Thirdly, the tech sector possesses enormous potential to solve global problems, and conversely, it can exacerbate age-old issues. Recently Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS) illuminated the potential dark side of the tech sector, child pornography. Through a shareholder resolution, CBIS called Verizon’s Corporate Board to issue a report on the potential sexual exploitation of children through the Company’s products and services. The result, 33.7 percent of Verizon’s shareholders voted in favor of the resolution! It is more than hopeful that there is an increasing awareness among shareholders that they have a voice in setting the direction of the company. If you have a retirement portfolio, a money manager or investments, be sure that you or your manager examine and vote the proxies of the companies in which you are invested.
Fourthly, a critical area of focus in shareholder advocacy in modern day slavery is to request the ethical recruitment of workers. The global economy creates a climate where labor brokers charge worker outrageous recruitment fees, take travel documents and do not provide contracts. It can take years for a migrant worker to pay back the debt incurred. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility is leading the No fees Campaign to support ethical recruitment. To date, 40 companies including Walmart, Ford, Hormel and Archer Daniels Midland have committed to “no worker paid fees.”
Please join the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking in our continuing efforts to require business transparency. Ask your Congress member to support the Corporate Transparency Act of 2019.