Ivory Coast cocoa importers liable to slavery suits
SAN FRANCISCO — A divided federal appeals court has declined to reconsider a ruling that said importers of cocoa from Ivory Coast plantations could be sued for promoting child slavery.
A majority of the voting judges on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declined Wednesday to review the decision, prompting a strong dissent by eight of the court’s more conservative jurists.
A three-judge panel decided 2 to 1 in September that corporations doing business with Ivory Coast plantations that use child slaves could be held liable for aiding and abetting slavery.
“The defendants had the means to stop or limit the use of child slavery, and had they wanted the slave labor to end, they could have used their leverage in the cocoa market to stop it,” the ruling said.
That decision stemmed from a proposed class-action lawsuit filed in Los Angeles by three former slave laborers against Nestle USA Inc., Archer Daniels Midland Co., Cargill Incorporated Co. and Cargill Coco.
In Wednesday’s dissent, Judge Carlos Bea, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, said a larger panel should have reconsidered the case because the court had acted out of sympathy for child slaves and misapplied the law.
“Pursuit of profit over human welfare, in the majority’s eyes, allows a jury to find the defendants specifically intended not merely to buy cocoa cheap, but to promote slavery as a means of buying cheap,” Bea wrote for the dissenters.
He said the ruling expanded the liability of corporations importing goods from overseas and could result in an embargo of Ivory Coast cocoa.
“We do the law a disservice when we allow our sympathies, no matter how wellfounded, to run our decisions afoul of the Supreme Court’s unequivocal commands,” Bea wrote.