The Supreme Court, which has placed strict limits on lawsuits brought in federal court based on human rights abuses abroad, seemed poised on Tuesday to reject a suit accusing two American corporations of complicity in child slavery on Ivory Coast cocoa farms.
The case was brought by six citizens of Mali who said they were trafficked into child slavery as children. They sued Nestlé USA and Cargill, saying the firms had aided and profited from the practice of forced child labor.
“Plaintiffs are former child slaves seeking compensation from two U.S. corporations which maintain a system of child slavery and forced labor in their Ivory Coast supply chain as a matter of corporate policy to gain a competitive advantage in the U.S. market,” said Paul L. Hoffman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
Neal K. Katyal, a lawyer for the companies, said they “abhor child slavery” and were not involved in it.
“The claim plaintiffs bring alleges something horrific: that locaters in Mali sold them as children to an Ivorian farm where overseers forced them to work,” Mr. Katyal said. But, he added, “the defendants are not the locaters, not the overseers and not the farm.”
The plaintiffs sued under the Alien Tort Statute, a cryptic 1789 law that 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.”