A consumer class action has been filed in the federal district court of Massachusetts, alleging that Hershey’s has been misleading consumers by failing to disclose alleged child labour in its supply chains to consumers at the point of purchase.
Similar class action lawsuits have now also been brought against Mars and Nestlé in the same district.
Law firm Herbert Smith Freehills said the cases follow the 2016 dismissal by the district court of California of similar consumer ‘non-disclosure’ actions against the chocolate makers, currently on appeal before the Ninth Circuit.
“The claimants are seeking to rely on Hershey’s public human rights, sustainability and corporate responsibility statements to bring claims under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act and in unjust enrichment,” said the law firm.
“In particular, the claimants refer to Hershey’s statements of ‘zero tolerance for the worst forms of child labour in its supply chain’ and the reports that it has made as to its ‘large-scale efforts’ and ‘programmes to help eliminate’ child labour.”
The claimants do not plead any case of specific instances of child labour in the Hershey’s supply chain. Rather they rely on Hershey’s public disclosures that Côte d’Ivoire is one of their primary sourcing countries for cocoa, coupled with well-publicised studies citing the extensive use of child labour in the country.
The law firm said the claim centres on allegations that Hershey’s knew that there is child labour within its supply chain, that Hershey’s failed to disclose such information at the point of sale to consumers and that consumers were thereby deceived into buying a product that they would otherwise not buy (or paying more for the product than they otherwise would). It is alleged that this is a breach of Massachusetts consumer protection law and/or that Hershey’s received an unjust enrichment as a result of its failure to disclose.