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Do Corporations Have the Right to Profit Off Child Slavery? They Sure Want To!

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I referenced this in the post on the bill to ban goods made from Chinese Muslim concentration camp prisons yesterday, but Neil Katyal arguing for child slavery on behalf of the most reprehensible corporations in the world in front of the Supreme Court yesterday should destroy any credibility he ever has for the rest of his life.

The Supreme Court seemed concerned Tuesday about the impact of siding with food giants Nestle and Cargill and ending a lawsuit that claims they knowingly bought cocoa beans from farms in Africa that used child slave labor.

The court was hearing arguments in the case by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic. If the court were to accept Nestle and Cargill’s arguments, that could further limit the ability of victims of human rights abuses abroad to use U.S. courts to sue. But both liberal and conservative justices asked questions that were skeptical of arguments made by the companies’ attorney.

“Many of your arguments lead to results that are pretty hard to take,” conservative Justice Samuel Alito told attorney Neal Katyal, who was arguing on behalf of Nestle and Cargill. The court’s three liberal justices were particularly critical of Katyal’s position, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor at one point saying it “boggles my mind.”

The case before the justices has been going on for more than 15 years. It involves six adult citizens of Mali, referred to only as John Does, who say that as children they were taken from their country and forced to work on cocoa farms in neighboring Ivory Coast. They say they worked 12 to 14 hours a day, were given little food and were beaten if their work was seen as slow.

The group says that Minneapolis-based Cargill and the American arm of Switzerland-based Nestle “aided and abetted” their slavery by, among other things, buying cocoa beans from farms that used child labor. The group is seeking to bring a class action lawsuit on behalf of themselves and what they say are thousands of other former child slaves.

Both Nestle and Cargill say they have taken steps to combat child slavery and have denied any wrongdoing.

The case involves a law enacted by the very first Congress in 1789, the Alien Tort Statute, which permits foreign citizens to sue in U.S. courts for human rights abuses. The justices are being asked to rule on whether it permits lawsuits against American companies.

The Alien Tort Statue is the centerpiece for my proposed Corporate Accountability Act and we need to fight for the aggressive use of it to hold corporations accountable for their crimes abroad. I remain skeptical that Sam Alito isn’t going to rule for corporate domination of the world, but the fact that he is even questioning this is pretty telling of just how awful this really is. Even if the justices do rule in favor of their rich friends, there’s enough support for holding corporations accountable among liberals that a change in the Court’s composition could make the impossible seem very possible quite quickly. Of course, that requires winning the two Georgia Senate seats just as a first step.

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