Mars and Quaker dodge chocolate/child slavery claims, but Starbucks doesn’t

Myers v.
Starbucks Corp., 2021 WL 1921120, No. 5:20-cv-00335-JWH-SHKx (C.D. Cal. May 5,
2021)

Myers
sued Mars, Quaker Oats, and Starbucks under the CLRA and UCL, alleging claims
related to use of child slaves to produce cocoa. Child slavery, which allegedly
produces most of the cocoa Americans consume, is horrific both for the enslaved
children and for the environment, promoting deforestation in the Ivory Coast.
Consumers would prefer “chocolate that destroys neither the rainforest nor the
lives of millions of children,” but the supply chain makes detecting
malfeasance difficult: “small farms sell to intermediaries, who mix together
beans from many farmers to sell to grinders or traders and then to
manufacturers.” Although chocolate is often untraceable, some companies have
traced their cocoa from bean to chocolate bar and have eliminated child slavery
from their supply chains. “However, the World Cocoa Foundation has conceded
that it cannot eradicate child labor in cocoa production by 2025.”

All
defendants advertise their cocoa as humanely produced. The back of Mars Dove
Dark Chocolate products say: “[w]e buy cocoa from Rainforest Alliance
Certified™ farms, traceable from the farms into our factory,” and Mars used the
seal of Rainforest Alliance Certification, “a third-party certifier which holds
itself out as the benchmark for the sustainable production of cocoa,” on
packaging. However, “Mars can, at best, trace only 24% of its cocoa back to
farms,” because the ethically sourced beans were allegedly intermingled with
slave-produced beans at its factories.

Quaker
Oats advertised that its Chocolate Chip Chewy Bars “support sustainably sourced
cocoa through [the non-profit entity] Cocoa Horizons.” But the bars were
allegedly not sustainably sourced, and only 26% of the farms from which Cocoa
Horizons sources its cocoa had programs to prevent child labor.

Starbucks
labels its Hot Cocoa Mix as “made with ethically sourced cocoa” and administers
an internal certification program known as “COCOA.” Starbucks was allegedly “fully
aware that the farms it sources its cocoa from use child and slave labor.”

The
court granted the motion to dismiss as to Mars and Quaker, but not Starbucks.

Mars:
The use of the Rainforest Alliance seal didn’t amount to a specific affirmative
misrepresentation. Myers alleged that only 24% of the chocolate was traceable,
and alleged that Mars intermingles its beans for Dove Dark Chocolate
specifically and can’t trace its sources. But the court parsed the Mars
statement like it was looking for perjury: Mars said that it buys traceable
beans, not that it only buys traceable beans. That was true, and so it
wasn’t an affirmative misrepresentation. Likewise, Mars only claimed that it
bought traceable beans, not that the product on which it advertised its
purchases of traceable beans contained those beans. This reasoning seems
indifferent to the idea of “misleadingness” rather than falsity. But the court
thought that Myers didn’t allege “facts sufficient to show that a reasonable
consumer would read Mars’ packaging to mean the opposite of what it says.” [The
opposite?]

Quaker:
Likewise, because Quaker Oats advertised “support” for sustainably sourced
cocoa, not any specific result, the label was not misleading.

Starbucks:
Previously, the court dismissed an earlier version of the complaint because Myers
had not pleaded facts sufficient to allege that the COCOA program was “a sham.”
Also, alleged environmental misconduct didn’t matter, because “ ‘ethically
sourced’ is generally understood to refer to labor practices.” (This court is
not very interested in finding out what reasonable consumers actually might
think.)

Myers
revised her argument: because “no company, including Starbucks,” can claim
slave-free chocolate, a reasonable consumer would be misled by chocolate
advertised as “ethically sourced.”

This,
the court accepted for purposes of the motion, though it was still skeptical.
Myers successfully alleged that “child slavery is endemic to the chocolate
trade; that it is difficult or impossible to produce chocolate without labor
from child slaves; that a reasonable consumer is sensitive to these concerns
and would consider ethically made chocolate and reliance on child slavery
mutually exclusive; and that Starbucks claims that its hot chocolate is made
from ethically sourced cocoa.”

Her
desire to buy chocolate again also gave her standing for injunctive relief.

from Blogger https://ift.tt/3kFObzq

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