NEW YORK • International Rights Advocates (IRA), a human rights group, has filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of eight Malian citizens against chocolate companies for alleged complicity in trafficking and forced labour.
The plaintiffs were trafficked as children and forced to harvest cocoa in Ivory Coast, the biggest exporter and producer, IRA said in a statement.
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.
Nestle, Cargill and Mars are among the firms named in the suit.
"They benefit by continuing to profit from selling cheap cocoa harvested by child slaves," IRA said in a statement.
Ms Jessica Adelman, a spokesman for Mars, said by e-mail: "We don't comment on any possible pending litigation."
Mars Wrigley, wholly owned by Mars, said last week in a report that it expanded coverage of child labour monitoring.
A Cargill spokesman said in an e-mail statement: "We are aware of the filing and while we cannot comment on specifics of this case right now, I want to reinforce we have no tolerance for child labour in cocoa production.
"Our resolve to address this has never been stronger and we are accelerating our efforts to address the root causes of child labour."
A Nestle spokesman said in an e-mail statement that the company has explicit policies against child labour and is working to end it. The lawsuit "does not advance the shared goal of ending child labour in the cocoa industry".
Multinational companies have faced dozens of suits accusing them of playing a role in human rights violations, environmental wrongdoing and labour abuses.
IRA has also filed a case on behalf of six former child slaves against Nestle and Cargill. The case is still pending and was argued in the US Supreme Court on Dec 1.