International Rights Advocates et al. v. Cargill, Mars and Mondelez Inc.

November 28, 2023
Not judged
United States, District of Columbia

Individuals, Environmental NGOs, Farm/rural workers
Marie Kassim, Rakia Kassim, Issam Laar, Christiana Nartey, Sandra Nketiah, International Rights Advocates, et al.
Terrence Collingsworth (International Rights Advocates)

Civil court
Class action, Jury
Condemn companies for failing to end child labor, for leading generations of children into a life of poverty and dangerous conditions, and for misleading the public about their efforts.
Superior Court, Civil Division of District of Columbia, United States
First instance

On November 28, 2023, International Rights Advocates and children aged six to sixteen working on cocoa plantations, together with their parents, filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, against three of the world's largest chocolate companies (Mars, Cargill and Mondelez), for serious violations of children's rights.

The class action is open to "All individuals during the period from November 29, 2020 through the present who reside or did reside in the country of Ghana, West Africa and performed the worst forms of child labor as defined by ILO Convention No. 182, including using dangerous tools or applying chemical pesticides and herbicides, as children under the age of 16 on any farm and/or farmer cooperative within any cocoa producing region of Ghana [...]. The members are currently minors between the ages of 6 and 16 who are still working on the cocoa plantations of the three defendant companies, and their parents.

The members of the class action allege that the three companies subjected them to inhumane working conditions. They are required to apply toxic pesticides without protective equipment, in violation of Convention No. 182 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Ghana's Children Act (1998). The plaintiffs report the health damage caused by daily exposure to pesticides without equipment: headaches, vomiting, dizziness. As the majority of the children concerned are girls, they also point to the potential damage to their reproductive systems.

Furthermore, in a document attached to the complaint, eight of the world's largest chocolate companies, including the three defendants, undertook to put an end to child labor in the worst conditions by 2005, in accordance with Convention No. 182.

International Rights Advocates is filing suit under the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (DCCPPA). It accuses the defendants of deceptively marketing their products, leading consumers to believe that they are committed to the fight against child labor.

The legal grounds for the class action are: unjust enrichment, negligent supervision, theft (cocoa prices set by the defendants and the Ghanaian government are too low to ensure food security and the workers' basic needs), intentional infliction of moral distress, violation of the DCCPPA.

The plaintiffs request that each of the children and their parents be compensated for the damages suffered as a result of the inhumane working conditions to which they are subjected, including the loss of chance of a school education and professional opportunities, as well as for the mental and physical suffering suffered as a result of being forced to work in such conditions. A jury trial is demanded.