[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) led a bipartisan group of 21 members of Congress in filing an amicus brief supporting victims of human trafficking in their case against two corporations – Nestlé USA and Cargill – alleged to have knowingly aided and abetted the abuse of child slaves trafficked to work on cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case today.
The brief was joined by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and U.S. Representatives Joaquin Castro (D-TX), David Cicilline (D-RI), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY).
The members of Congress’ amicus brief focuses on the extensive and bipartisan efforts by Congress to eradicate human trafficking, forced labor, and all forms of modern day slavery, most notably through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPRA), authored by Rep. Smith. The legislation, passed by Congress in 2000 and strengthened through subsequent reauthorizations, criminalizes sex and labor trafficking, creates a federal civil remedy for victims of human trafficking, and expands the law to allow for civil and criminal liability for forced labor committed internationally.
The amicus brief argues that the TVPRA is the correct guidepost to determine Congress’ views on human trafficking and that the law does not preclude trafficking victims from bringing a lawsuit in the U.S. under the Alien Tort Statue (ATS), emphasizing that Congress intends the liability for those who benefit from trafficking and forced labor, explicitly including corporations, to be extensive.
“Any consideration of congressional policy must begin with the [Trafficking Victims Protection Act]—the culmination of longstanding, bi-partisan congressional efforts to eradicate human trafficking and forced labor. The statute underscores Congress’ determination that the prohibition of these crimes is specific, universal, and obligatory,” the members of Congress wrote in their brief.
“[T]here is nothing in the TVPRA that would preclude recognition of a civil action for aiding and abetting child slavery under the ATS. The TVPRA’s broad civil liability provision is one of Congress’ many chosen tools in its battle against the global scourge of human trafficking, which Congress has zealously sought to combat.”
The amicus brief was filed in support of human trafficking victims in two ongoing lawsuits brought under the ATS, which enables federal courts to hear lawsuits filed by non-U.S. citizens for wrongs violating international law. In the original cases filed against Nestlé USA and Cargill, former child slaves allege that they were trafficked from Mali to Côte d’Ivoire, forced to work without pay for twelve to fourteen hours a day, given minimal food and shelter, and subjected to physical abuse. Those who tried to escape say they were beaten and tortured.
The full text of the amicus brief is available here.