On Monday, June 4, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an important opinion, Hodson v. Mars, Inc., holding that food manufacturers do not have any independent obligation under California consumer protection laws to disclose on their labels the possibility of alleged harmful labor practices occurring in the downstream supply chain of the manufacturer’s products. Affirming the district court’s dismissal of an action against Mars demanding such labeling, the Ninth Circuit confirmed that consumer protection laws do not impose this requirement, as California law limits such affirmative disclosures to circumstances where there is an “unreasonable safety hazard” associated with the product—a condition that was admittedly not present in the Mars case.

Plaintiff had appealed the district court’s dismissal of the action, asking the Ninth Circuit to adopt a more open-ended standard that would require affirmative disclosures concerning issues like supply chain practices, even where no “safety hazard” was present. In a unanimous decision, the Ninth Circuit affirmed, rejecting plaintiffs’ position and holding that California’s consumer protection laws do not require such disclosures. The panel also noted that the relevant information regarding slave and child labor is published on Mars’ website, in compliance with California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act (CTSCA).

Hodson thus reaffirms that California consumer protection laws cannot be employed by plaintiffs to demand labeling disclosures for consumer products simply because certain consumers might prefer that information. Rather, at least in cases involving pure omissions, the demanded disclosure must be related to safety considerations.

A note of caution on Hodson is in order on supply chain issues specifically, however. Hodson does not relieve consumer goods’ manufacturers of the requirements imposed by the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, to disclose on the manufacturers’ website its efforts to verify and audit suppliers and their supply chain practices. Indeed, as noted above, Mars’ compliance with that law helped support affirmance of the district court’s dismissal. For more information on the specific requirements of the CTSCA, see Perkins Coie’s overview here.

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Photo of Markus Funk Markus Funk

Markus Funk, who from 2016 – 2021 served as the firmwide chair of the White Collar & Investigations practice, is a decorated former federal prosecutor in Chicago, and a former section chief with the U.S. State Department-Balkans. He earned a PhD (DPhil) in…

Markus Funk, who from 2016 – 2021 served as the firmwide chair of the White Collar & Investigations practice, is a decorated former federal prosecutor in Chicago, and a former section chief with the U.S. State Department-Balkans. He earned a PhD (DPhil) in law from Oxford University, where he started his career as a lecturer in law. In 2021, Chambers ranked him “Band 1” for Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations – Colorado and also included him in the rankings for FCPA – USA – Nationwide (a first for a lawyer based in Colorado/the Rocky Mountain Region).

In private practice since 2010, Markus focuses on internal investigations, complex commercial litigation both at the trial and appellate levels, white collar criminal defense, corporate social responsibility and supply chain compliance, and corporate counseling. He was selected to serve as a World Bank Group advisor and monitor to an Africa-based company seeking reinstatement following debarment, and he routinely counsels clients and conducts internal investigations and reviews throughout the world. During his time in public service, Markus and his team prosecuted “Operation Family Secrets,” which National Public Radio lauded as “one of the most important criminal investigations . . . in American history” (the 1995 movie “Casino” was based on the charged criminal activities). At the time of his departure from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Chicago Sun-Times described Markus as a “street-smart prosecutor with an Oxford pedigree.”

Markus also is the founding co-chair of Perkins Coie’s Supply Chain Compliance practice and in 2015 was tapped to head up the firm’s Africa Practice. The recipient of numerous awards, he was named Colorado’s “Best Overall Litigator” (2015); “Colorado White Collar Lawyer of the Year” (2015); one of “10 Best Attorneys for the State of Illinois” (2014) and “10 Best Attorneys for the State of Colorado” (2017); and “Lawyer of the Year” (2013). He co-founded the ABA’s Global Anti-Corruption Committee in 2010 and has chaired the section since then. He is also ranked “Band 1” by Chambers and Partners, who in their 2019 assessment quoted one of Markus’ clients, saying “his knowledge and experience base far surpasses any other attorney that we have worked with and he is always extremely thorough and proactive, enabling us to get well ahead of any situation at hand.”