By Ramesh Jaura

BERLIN | NEW YORK (IDN) – The choice of former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres as the next United Nations Secretary-General is profoundly historic, though it has not come as a surprise.

Guterres has not only gathered valuable experience as head of the UN Refugee Agency for ten years until December 2015, and as prime minister of his country in critical times, but also as president of the Socialist International.

This global social democratic organisation played a significant role at the height of the Cold War and in the Middle East under the stewardship of the late Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky and Nobel Laureate and (West) German Chancellor Willy Brandt.

- Photo: 2021

Chocolate Multinationals Collude with Mali’s Child Slavery Rings

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) — A federal class-action suit filed on behalf of eight Malian citizens against Nestle SA, Cargill, Hershey and Mars, Inc. among others for their alleged complicity in the trafficking and forced labour of African children, is now under review by the US Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs are former child slaves trafficked from Mali to harvest cocoa beans in Côte d’Ivoire, the biggest exporter and producer.

They claim they were forced to work long hours on Ivory Coast cocoa farms and kept in locked shacks at night – often for several years or more – with no pay, no travel documents and no clear idea of where they were or how to get back to their families. They finally managed to escape and return to Mali.

Their attorneys argue that the companies should have better monitored their cocoa suppliers in West Africa, where about two-thirds of the world’s cocoa is grown and child labour is widespread. The case is based on a law that allows victims to sue companies that participate in a venture that benefits from trafficking and forced labour.

As there are no laws in Mali to aid the plaintiffs in seeking damages or civil remedies against foreign exporters, they brought their claims under US law, specifically the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and the Alien Torts Statute.

In 2001, the chocolate manufacturers signed an international agreement called the Harkin-Engel Protocol to reduce child labour in Ghana and Côte D’Ivoire by 2005. The World Cocoa Foundation, an industry body to which all the defendants belong, now aims to achieve the target by 2025.

A central allegation of the lawsuit is that the defendants, despite not owning the cocoa farms in question, “knowingly profited” from the illegal work of children. According to the submissions, the defendants’ contracted suppliers were able to provide lower prices than if they had employed adult workers with proper protective equipment.

The business practices of these companies clearly have contributed to the use of forced and child labor in West Africa,” said Charity Ryerson, an attorney for the Corporate Accountability Lab who has travelled to Africa to investigate cocoa practices.

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago has determined that the number of enslaved child laborers working in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana has gradually increased to over 1.56 million, implying the efforts purported by the chocolate companies to reduce child labor were bogus misrepresentations.

Nestlé USA and Cargill have responded that they, too, deplore child slavery and trafficking, and that they have taken steps to eradicate such practices among their suppliers.

The companies have asked the Supreme Court to toss the lawsuit, arguing that courts in the United States are the wrong forum for the Malians’ complaint and that the applicable law permits such cases against individuals but not corporations. [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 February 2021]

Photo: Collage of pictures from Wikipedia Commons and NationofChange.

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