The court ruled 8-1 that U.S. chocolate companies can't be sued for child slavery on African farms where they purchase their cocoa from as U.S. courts do not have jurisdiction over the allegations but did not say such a lawsuit could never go forward.
Six African men brought the lawsuit against the two companies, seeking damages as they alleged they were trafficked out of Mali as children and forced to work long hours on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast where they were kept in locked shacks at night.
The lawsuit was filed under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows federal district courts to hear "any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States," arguing that the companies should have more closely monitored their West African cocoa suppliers.
Business groups said U.S. and foreign companies have been sued 150 times in the past 25 years under the Alien Tort Statute.
The companies asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the case, arguing that U.S. courts were not the appropriate forum for the trial and suits should be filed against the traffickers and farmers, not the corporations.
Justice Clarence Thomas authored the opinion, stating that the lawsuit did not establish adequate connection to conduct within the United States to qualify under the statute.
Paul Hoffman, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told The Hill he was disappointed in the court's decision.
"We believe that the companies are more deeply involved in the system of child slavery in that country," said Hoffman. "We will be able to amend our complaint to address the court's standard.
A Nestle representative described child labor as "unacceptable" and said the company is working to prevent it.
"Today the Supreme Court agreed there is no basis for this lawsuit to proceed against Nestle," the company said. "Nestle never engaged in egregious child labor alleged in this suit and we remain unwavering in our dedication to combatting child labor in the cocoa industry and to our ongoing work with partners in government, NGOs and industry to tackle this complex global issue."