Leading Human Rights Watchdog to Sue U.S. Customs Service for Not Enforcing Laws Against Child Labor

Also Demand That Five U.S. Companies Importing Cocoa from Africa Act to Stop Child Slavery on Suppliers’ Farms

CONTACT: Ira Arlook, New Economy Communications (202) 721-0111

On Thursday morning, October 28, The International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) will file a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) in New York City against the U.S. Customs Service for failure to enforce its own laws against the importation of goods made by forced child labor.

The ILRF filed a petition with the U.S. Customs Service on May 30, 2002, to initiate an investigation and enforcement action under section 307 of the Trade Act of 1930, 19 U.S.C.§ 1307 (1997). The law prohibits the importation of goods made by forced labor or child slavery.

To date, the Bush Administration has not intervened nor attempted to enforce the law, despite the fact that the ILRF’s independent investigation in Ivory Coast, completed in April 2003, proved child slavery continues to exist on cocoa farms producing for export to the U.S.

The latest State Department 2003 Human Rights Report on Ivory Coast stated trafficking remains a problem in the country and the practice of indenturing Malian boys on farms and plantations under abusive conditions continued during the year. This report confirms results of two independent investigations in 2003 by the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) where children under the age of 15 were found working on cocoa farms and in which former child slaves who were held in debt bondage were interviewed.

In conjunction with the filing of the CIT lawsuit, ILRF will launch a Halloween campaign to demand that five multi-billion dollar MNCs, Nestle, ADM, Cargill, Hershey’s and M&M/Mars, act to ensure that children are not enslaved on their supplier farms.

ILRF is also contemplating what legal measures consumers may be able to take against specific companies to ensure that these companies comply with US law.

Ten multinational corporations, including Nestle, Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, control virtually all of the cocoa exported from Ivory Coast. Nestle, ADM and Cargill have administrative offices, distribution centers, storage facilities, and cocoa bean processing facilities in Ivory Coast. Once imported into the US, major chocolate retailers such as Hershey’s and M&M/Mars process the cocoa into candy and chocolate items.

Despite the country’s political instability, Ivory Coast remains the largest cocoa exporter producing over 40% of the world’s cocoa. In 2003, the U.S. import of cocoa beans from Ivory Coast was valued at US$344.18 million.

Plaintiffs in the case include Global Exchange and the Fair Trade Federation; both of which organizations and their members have a strong interest in ending child slavery in cocoa production.

Download the complaint (PDF)