Supreme Court Delivers Ruling in Human Rights Case

Supreme Court Delivers Ruling in Human Rights Case

( – The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down several opinions on controversial cases this week. It ruled against immigrants with protected status in Texas, sending shockwaves throughout the legal community. The Court also voted to uphold the legality of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) for the third time in less than a decade. In addition, SCOTUS handed down a ruling in a human rights case leaving the American business community both relieved and concerned.

On Thursday, June 17, SCOTUS tossed out a lawsuit alleging two US-based companies, Nestlé and Cargill, helped facilitate human rights abuses in the Ivory Coast, a country located on Africa’s southwest coast. The Court declined to hear the case by an 8 to 1 vote because the alleged conduct happened outside the United States.

The plaintiffs sought jurisdiction in US courts based on an 18th-Century law called the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), allowing foreign nations to seek legal remedies in the US for serious violations of international laws, including those protecting against human rights abuses.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a brief opinion that since the ATS doesn’t apply to actions taken outside the United States, the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the lawsuit before the court. As Thomas explained, almost all the conduct allegedly occurred overseas. Corporate decisions alleged to have been made by Nestlé and Cargill in the US could not establish a domestic application of the ATS.

Background of the Case

The plaintiffs in the case included six citizens of Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa. They alleged that they were enslaved on cocoa plantations located throughout the Ivory Coast. According to the plaintiffs, the conditions on the plantations were horrific. For instance, they were forced to work long hours with little food and no pay. In addition, if they didn’t work fast enough, plantation officials beat them with tree branches and whips.

Directing their attention to Nestlé and Cargill, the plaintiffs alleged they “knew or should have known” the plantations used children as slave labor. They also claimed Nestlé and Cargill exercised economic leverage over the plantations, but the companies “failed to exercise [that power] to eliminate child slavery” on the cocoa plantations.

It remains unclear whether the allegations against Nestlé and Cargill had any merit since the court dismissed the case on technical grounds. However, questions remain regarding the ability to hold companies accountable for being complicit in slave labor overseas, particularly since the court appeared to leave it open whether the ATS applies to businesses at all.

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