San Diego, Calif. (May 6, 2021) – In a significant victory for consumers, the U.S. District Court in the Central District of California denied a company’s attempts to dismiss plaintiff’s claims, allowing a nationwide class action to move forward. The lawsuit alleges that one of the world’s largest companies profiteers off misleading claims that its cocoa is “sustainably sourced,” while knowingly purchasing cocoa from a system that relies on forced child and slave labor in West Africa.
“This is a significant victory for consumers and is the first case of its kind to proceed past the motion to dismiss stage. From misleading and false claims on packaging to ambiguous programs and certifications, the allegations in the complaint maintain that the company claims its cocoa is sustainably sourced while it props up a cocoa production system in West Africa that is built upon the backs of child and slave laborers,” said Helen Zeldes, Partner at Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes, LLP, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiff and putative class. “California consumer protection laws can be powerful tools in stopping these deceptive practices and we look forward to litigating these claims.”
The lawsuit alleges that the company profits off the booming market for social and environmentally conscious goods despite its knowledge of child labor and slavery endemic in Côte d’Ivoire cocoa farms, and millions of children on Ivorian cocoa plantations subjected to what the International Labor Organization terms the “Worst Forms of Child Labor,” including trafficking, slavery and exposure to toxic chemicals and hazardous tools.
According to the lawsuit, no companies that source from Cote d’Ivoire can claim to be sourcing sustainable cocoa, as the vast majority of the cocoa sourced in Côte d’Ivoire comes from untraceable farms, in which child and slave labor is a common and widespread practice.
It is alleged that the company knowingly misleads consumers by conveying a sustainable image, inconsistent with what its sourcing practices really are, by claiming its Hot Cocoa Mix products are made with “sustainably sourced” cocoa and that it “purchases cocoa that’s grown and traded in a sustainable and transparent way.”
Plaintiff Myers is represented by Helen Zeldes, Ben Travis, Paul Hoffman, Catherine Sweetser and John Washington of Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes, LLP.
California-based trial law firm Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes, LLP has earned a reputation for obtaining outstanding results in complex cases involving human rights violations, consumer fraud, employment, civil rights, and class action litigation. The firm has offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, Pasadena and Hermosa Beach.