International Law

9th Circuit resurrects alien tort suit claiming companies aided child slavery overseas

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A federal appeals court has resurrected an alien tort suit filed by former child slaves who claim three corporations aided Ivory Coast cocoa farmers who kept children in captivity.

The decision (PDF) by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacates a district court ruling dismissing the complaint against Nestle, Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill. Among the publications reporting on the opinion are Courthouse News Service, the Metropolitan News-Enterprise and Confectionery News.

The three plaintiffs said they were forced to work up to 14 hours a day, six days a week; were fed only scraps of food; and were whipped and beaten. Children who tried to escape had their feet cut and were forced to drink urine, the plaintiffs alleged.

The 32-page 9th Circuit opinion issued last Thursday replaces a prior eight-page opinion issued in December, Courthouse News says.

The appeals court said corporations, and not just state actors, can face liability for violations of universal norms under the Alien Tort Statute. The court also said allegations that the defendants placed profits over human welfare satisfied mens rea requirements.

The court did not resolve a third question: whether the plaintiffs can sue despite an April 2013 U.S Supreme Court decision, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which tossed a U.S. suit alleging human-rights violations by oil companies in Nigeria. In that case, the Supreme Court said the claims were barred because they did not “touch and concern the territory of the United States …. with sufficient force.”

The 9th Circuit said it wouldn’t “attempt to apply the amorphous touch and concern test on the record currently before us” but that it would give the plaintiffs the opportunity to amend their complaint in light of Kiobel.

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