The intersection of labor & employment law, civil rights, and consumer protection

Recent media reports have declared that forced labor taints the nation’s food supply chains, from farms in Western Africa and surrounding Southeast Asia to supermarkets in the United States. This is big business according to a United Nations study, which found that nearly 21 million people have been enslaved and generate $150 billion in illicit revenue every year. As emerging court litigation and legislative action confirms, these business practices raise labor & employment law, civil rights, and consumer protection issues. Indeed, both court litigation and legislative action have ensued to address the evident slavery underlying food supply chains for everything from chocolate goods to shrimp and other seafood.

Creative plaintiff counsel have sued Hershey Co., Costco Wholesale Corp., and similar companies under consumer protection provisions based on the position that these companies unlawfully deceive consumers by not disclosing the food being sold has been generated through slave labor. Of course, the failure to pay appropriate wages and other workplace abuses also raise concerns under labor & employment law and civil rights statutes, particularly when certain populations have been targeted for such predatory employment practices.

In addition, progressive legislators are now pursuing legislation in Congress that would require companies to report frequently to the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding their business practices and the action taken to eliminate forced labor from their respective food supply chains. Although the Tariff Act of 1930 has outlawed the import of products derived from slave labor for the past 85 years, that law needs to be updated to account for the increasing complexity of our globalized economy today. If successful, such legislative action would significantly enhance compliance with applicable labor & employment law, civil rights, and consumer protection provisions.