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Hershey, Mars, and Nestle USA are under fire in three child labor class action lawsuits claiming the chocolate manufacturers failed to disclose they use cocoa beans produced from forced child and slave labor.

According to the World Cocoa Foundation, nearly half of the total U.S. imports of cocoa beans come from the Ivory Coast region of West Africa, which is known for engaging in the worst forms of child labor in the harvesting of cocoa. Hershey, Mars, and Nestle all purchase and import their cocoa to make their chocolate products from this region.

Many consumers todays have become sensitive to the products they buy and responsible marketing, especially product labeling is of major concern. Plaintiff Danell Tomasella is one of them and she is taking on the big chocolate makers, hoping to hold them legally accountable for their role in supporting child and slave labor.

The child labor class action lawsuit goes to state that the Ivory Coast’s “cocoa sector employed an estimated 1,203,473 child laborers ages 5 to 17, of which 95.9 percent were engaged in hazardous work in cocoa production.” This work includes “burning and clearing fields with machetes, spraying pesticides, using sharp tools to break open cocoa pods, and carrying heavy loads of cocoa pods and water.”

The Bureau of International Labor Affairs of the U.S. Department of Labor also reports that over 4,000 of these children work in condition of forced labor to produce the chocolate we in the U.S. consume. Some children are sold to traffickers, some are kidnapped, and are held against their will on isolated farms. Many are subjected to physical abuse and denied food.

Since the majority of consumers are not aware of the human rights abuses in procuring cocoa beans, the child labor class action lawsuit contends that Hershey, Mars, and Nestle are obligated to provide disclosures to consumers at the point of sales regarding the existence of child and slave labor in their supply chain.

“At the retail location, a consumer reviewing the packaging for the [chocolate products] will find no disclosure that there is child and/or slave labor in the supply chain,” the child labor class action lawsuit states.

Instead Tomasella asserts that the chocolate makers are turning a blind eye to the actions of their suppliers and are not acting in a socially or ethically responsible manner.

“When these food companies fail to uphold their responsibility for ensuring the absence of child and slave labor in their supply chains, their misconduct has a profound consequence of supporting and encouraging such labor.”

Tomasella is seeking to represent all consumers who purchased Hershey, Mars, and Nestle chocolate products in Massachusetts since 2014.

Tomasella and the proposed classes are represented by Hannah W. Brennan, Steve W. Berman, and Elaine T. Byszewksi of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP.

The Hershey, Mars, and Nestle Child Labor Class Action Lawsuits are:

  • Tomasella et al. v. The Hershey Company, et al., Case No. 1:18-cv-10360
  • Tomasella et al. v. Nestle USA, et al., Case No. 1:18-cv-10269
  • Tomasella et al. v. Mars, Inc., et al., Case No. 1:18-cv-10359

All are filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

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