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No Duty to Disclose Child-Slave Labor in Chocolate Case

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 06, 2018 11:30 AM

Otto von Bismarck said something like, "there are two things you don't want to see made: law and sausage."

That's also -- more or less -- what the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said about chocolate in Hodson v. Mars, Inc. The appeals court said the candy-maker defendant had no duty to disclose whether child-slave labor was used to make its products.

"Reprehensible" as the process may be, the appeals court said, that has little to do with chocolate products.

Consumer Protection

In 2010, lawmakers enacted the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. In compliance with the act, Mars said on its website that it fights slavery and labor abuses in its supply chain.

Robert Hodson filed a class-action against the company to disclose its labor practices under consumer protection laws. A trial judge dismissed the case, saying Mars did not have a duty to disclose.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed, but it was tough case for the judges.

"In the absence of any affirmative misrepresentations by the manufacturer, we hold that the manufacturers do not have a duty to disclose the labor practices in question, even though they are reprehensible, because they are not physical defects that affect the central function of the chocolate products," wrote Judge A. William Tashima in the unanimous ruling.

Child-Slave Labor

The appeals court acknowledged that Mars sources some cocoa beans from the Ivory Coast, where chocolate producers use "the worst forms of child labour." They cited the U.S. Department of Labor, which said:

"Children ... are working under conditions of forced labor on Ivoirian cocoa farms ... Some children are sold by their parents to traffickers, some are kidnapped, and others migrate willingly but fall victim to traffickers who sell them to recruiters or farmers, where they end up in conditions of bonded labor ..."

In a statement to Courthouse News, Mars said it has "never condoned the use of forced labor." The company said it continues to combat the problem by working with international organizations.

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