Consumer rights law firm Hagens Berman has filed lawsuits against Hershey and Mars just weeks after initiating legal action against Nestle. The firm alleges that the chocolate companies failed to inform consumers about the potential presence of child and forced labor in the production of its cocoa.
Consumer Danell Tomasella, the same person who brought the suit against Nestle, filed the class action lawsuits against Mars and Hershey in a Massachusetts district court on February 26.
Confectionery News reports:
“Like Nestle, Mars and Hershey’s have failed to take action on this issue, despite clear knowledge of their support of the use of child and slave labor, and have also failed to inform consumers at point-of-sale that their purchases are supporting this supply chain linked directly to atrocious human rights violations,” said Steve Berman, managing director of Hagens Berman.
The suits allege Mars and Hershey have violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, which states “unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful.”
A Mars Wrigley Confectionery spokesman said that while they do not comment on pending litigation, “We believe that the worst forms of child labor have no place in the future of sustainable cocoa.” Still, the company admitted that child labor continues to be a problem in the West African cocoa industry, saying that progress on eliminating it has been “far too slow.”
The lawsuit also claims that the chocolate industry failed to keep promises made in the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which aimed to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in Côte d’Ivoire by 2005. The deadline on the protocol has been repeatedly pushed back, now to 2020.
Jeff Beckman, director of corporate communications at Hershey, said that they stand by sourcing from certified cocoa farms and that certification includes “prohibiting illegal and forced child labor in accordance with International Labour Organization conventions.”