Appellate court upholds decision to toss Mars child-labor labeling suit
Ninth Circuit court affirms California district court’s decision to dismiss claims made against chocolate manufacturer.
June 6, 2018
A federal appeals court has agreed that Mars, Inc. and other food manufacturers have no duty under California consumer protection laws to disclose on product packages that their supply chains may contain child labor.
The decision, handed down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this week, stems from a 2015 case filed by Robert Hodson, a California resident who purchased Mars chocolate products between 2011 and the date of the filing. He alleged Mars violated three California laws pertaining to unfair competition, false advertising and consumer protections by not citing on its packaging that cocoa harvested from Cote D’Ivoire has the potential of being associated with child or forced labor.
Hodson added he would not have purchased or “paid as much” for the products if the labels included information about the labor practices of Mars’ cocoa suppliers.
In February 2016, U.S. District Judge Richard Seebourg dismissed the claims, noting the regulations do not require Mars to disclose the potential for child or forced labor to arise in the supply chain. Hodson appealed in March 2016.
Writing on behalf of the Ninth Circuit, Judge A. Wallace Tashima in June 4 filing affirmed the district court’s opinion, calling child labor and forced labor “modern-day scourges” that continue to gain the attention of consumers.
Tashima said Hodson did not present misstatements made by Mars, instead relying on the “omission theory of consumer fraud.” For an omission of information to be actionable, it must cause an “unreasonable safety hazard.”
Tashima also pointed to efforts Mars has taken to combat slavery and labor abuses in its supply chain.
“The California consumer protection laws do not obligate the defendants-appellees to label their goods as possibly being produced by child or slave labor,” he wrote. “In the absence of any affirmative misrepresentations by the manufacturer, we hold that manufacturers do not have a duty to disclose the labor practices in question, even though they are reprehensible, because they are not physical defects that affect the central function of the chocolate products.”