Robert Hodsdon purchased chocolate products made by the Mars company. Of course, we know the Mars company makes Mars Bars, Milky Ways, M&M’s, Skittles, Snickers and Twix. My personal favorite is Snickers. My daughter Kelsey’s turtle is named Skittles.
Hodsdon didn’t buy the candy because he liked chocolate; he purchased because he wanted to sue Mars for not disclosing it sources some of its cocoa beans from companies in Africa who use child labor.
THE IVORY COAST (CÔTE D’IVOIRE)
The Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa beans, the raw ingredient for chocolate. Like most chocolate manufacturers, Mars purchases some of its cocoa beans from the Ivory Coast, which is infamous for using what the International Labor Organization calls “the worst forms of child labor.”
The US Department of Labor describes the situation at the Ivory Coast as follows:
“children… are working under conditions of forced labor… some are sold by their parents to traffickers, some are kidnapped, …. they end up in conditions of bonded labor…”
As the Court in this federal case wrote, “Mars recognizes that its supply chains may be infected by the worst forms of child labor but does not disclose this on its product labeling.” Hodsdon sued to force Mars to make that disclosure on each candy bar.
PORTER’S SNICKERS’ DISCLOSURE
I can see it now as I take a bite out of my Snickers: Thank you for choosing Snickers… and for all the suffering you inflict on malnourished children forced into SLAVE LABOR on the Ivory Coast. Enjoy.
THE CALIFORNIA SUPPLY CHAINS ACT
Interestingly, Mars complies with California’s Transparency and Supply Chains Act of 2010 which requires retailers and manufacturers doing business in California to disclose on their website their “efforts to eradicate slavery or human trafficking from [their] direct supply chain for tangible goods offered for sale”. Mars posts this disclosure on its website. Kamala Harris wrote a Resource Guide on the law.
LAWSUIT AGAINST MARS
Hodsdon sued Mars under the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the Unfair Competition Law and the False Advertising Law, alleging that Mars had a duty to disclose on its labels the labor practices that may taint its supply chain.
The trial court dismissed the lawsuit and the case made it to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals before a three-judge panel. Mars argued that merely omitting a statement about the Ivory Coast labor is not improper, plus Mars had no duty to disclose unless the child labor disclosure “caused an unreasonable safety hazard”.
CALIFORNIA FALSE ADVERTISING LAW
While I am familiar with California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act and Unfair Competition Law, I am not as familiar with California’s False Advertising Law. This law seems to open the door to a lot of lawsuits as it makes it unlawful for any person to ‘induce the public to enter into any obligation’ based on a statement that is ‘untrue or misleading, and which is known, or which by the exercise of reasonable care should be known, to be untrue or misleading’ ”.
Hodsdon’s False Advertising Law claim failed because as the Court wrote “failure to disclose a fact one has no affirmative duty to disclose is not likely to deceive anyone. “
The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of Mars. We won’t be reading about unsavory labor practices in the sourcing of cocoa from the Ivory Coast on Snickers or Skittles packages any time soon. Go to Mars’ website and learn about the company’s efforts to combat slavery and labor abuses in its supply chain.
No column next week, body surfing in the warm Atlantic at the Jersey Shore.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at email@example.com or www.portersimon.com. Like us on Facebook. ©2019