WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Nestlé USA and Cargill Inc. can’t be sued in U.S. courts for abuses allegedly committed in Ivory Coast, where plaintiffs accused the food-processing giants of obtaining cocoa from plantations that relied on the forced labor of children.
The court, in a decision by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the plaintiffs’ case didn’t have enough of a connection to the U.S. to proceed.
“Nearly all the conduct that they say aided and abetted forced labor—providing training, fertilizer, tools, and cash to overseas farms—occurred in Ivory Coast,” Justice Thomas wrote.
The decision was the latest in a series of cases curbing the reach of the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 law authorizing foreign citizens to sue in federal court over violations of international law.
Justice Thomas said the plaintiffs were impermissibly seeking to apply that law beyond U.S. borders. The court’s central holding came on an 8-1 vote, though justices splintered on some of the finer points of the case.