Alien Tort Statute (ATS) - The World in U.S. Courts: Winter 2019

March.11.2019

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ATS Applies to Alleged Child Slavery in the Ivory Coast Supported by Decisions Made in the US

Doe v. Nestle, S.A., US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, October 30, 2018

The plaintiffs allege they were child slaves forced to harvest cocoa for the defendants in the Ivory coast, and brought suit under the ATS. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on grounds that it required an impermissibly extraterritorial application of the statute.

The Court of Appeals acknowledged that the ATS could only apply to US domestic activities, and resolved an unsettled question by concluding that the geographic scope of a claim must be viewed in relation to the “focus” of the statute—leaving the ATS to apply to “conduct of the defendant which is alleged by plaintiff to be either a direct violation of the law of nations or ... constitutes aiding and abetting another’s violation of the law of nations.” As relevant here, the Court of Appeals found this test satisfied by allegations that US-based defendants provided funding in the nature of “kickbacks” to support the alleged child slavery, and “regularly inspected” operations in the Ivory Coast and reported back to the US, where the financing decisions originated. “In sum, the allegations paint a picture of overseas slave labor that defendants perpetuated from headquarters in the US.”

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