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“Plaintiffs, aged 12 to 14 when first forced to work as child slaves, had to work 12 to 14 hour days with no pay. They often worked with guns pointed at them, and were given only the bare minimum of food scraps,” write their lawyers in the complaint. “Plaintiffs were locked in small rooms at night with other child slaves so they could not escape the plantations. They were whipped and beaten by the guards and overseers when the guards felt they were not working quickly or adequately.”
An amended complaint was filed on July 22, 2009, accusing the three companies of being complicit in the slave trade: Cargill from Minneapolis which buys cocoa beans and operates a cocoa processing plant in Côte d’Ivoire; ADM of Decatur, Illinois, which imports cocoa and manufactures chocolate-based products in factories in California; and Nestlé from Switzerland, which markets chocolate products in the U.S.
The lawsuit hit a roadblock in 2010 when U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson dismissed the case saying that U.S. laws did not allow corporations to be sued in for abuses abroad. However, in April last year, when the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a case against Royal Dutch Petroleum for human rights abuses in Nigeria, the court ruled that lawsuits against corporations for abuses overseas could be brought in U.S. courts in specific circumstances. Based on that ruling, Dorothy Nelson and Kim Wardlaw, two appeals court judges, ruled on December 19 that the plaintiffs should be allowed to show that the defendants fulfilled the “actus reus” standard for aiding and abetting a crime.