Thursday, June 17, 2021

Supreme Court Rejects Suit Against 2 US Companies Charging Abetting Child Slavery Abroad

Under the Alien Tort Statute, suits may be brought in U.S. courts by non-citizens to recover damages for human rights abuses that violate international law, if conduct relevant to the statute’s focus occurred in the United States.  The U.S. Supreme Court this morning in Nestle USA, Inc. v. Doe, (Sup. Ct., June 17, 2021), by an 8-1 vote, dismissed an Alien Tort Statute suit, finding insufficient conduct in the United States.  The Court summarized plaintiffs' allegations:

Petitioners NestlĂ© USA and Cargill are U. S.-based companies that purchase, process, and sell cocoa. They did not own or operate farms in Ivory Coast. But they did buy cocoa from farms located there. They also provided those farms with technical and financial resources—such as training, fertilizer, tools, and cash—in exchange for the exclusive right to purchase cocoa. Respondents allege that they were enslaved on some of those farms.

Respondents sued Nestlé, Cargill, and other entities, contending that this arrangement aided and abetted child slavery.

The Court, in an opinion by Justice Thomas, held:

The Ninth Circuit ... let this suit proceed because respondents pleaded as a general matter that “every major operational decision by both companies is made in or approved in the U. S.”... But allegations of general corporate activity—like decision making—cannot alone establish domestic application of the ATS.

Justices Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh would have also held that the ATS is merely jurisdictional, and no private right of action has been created by Congress for this conduct.

Justice Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion, joined in parts by Justices Alito and Kavanaugh. Justice Sotomayor, Joined by Justices Breyer and Kagan filed an opinion concurring in part. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion.

AP reports on the decision.