There were seventeen new cases filed in May, putting total filings for the year at seventy-two. By this time last year, plaintiffs had filed sixty-nine food and beverage cases. Most of the new filings were in California, with a few in New York and one in Missouri. All seventeen of the new cases were false labeling cases.

In a continued expansion of the “sustainability/human rights” cases, several tuna companies were sued in the Northern District of California for allegedly misleading consumers about whether their tuna is dolphin safe. Plaintiffs allege that the tuna suppliers use fishing tactics that can be harmful to dolphins, rendering their “Dolphin Safe” labels misleading under California law and similar laws from all fifty states. These cases evoke similar human rights supply chain cases pursued, largely without success, in the last few years in the Ninth Circuit including the Chipotle GMO supply chain case, Schneider v. Chipotle Mexica Grill, Inc., and the recent Ninth Circuit omissions case, Hodsdon v. Mars.

Other cases of note include DiGregorio v. Kellogg Sales Company, a Northern District of New York case alleging that Kellogg misleadingly marketed high-sugar cereals as healthy. This case mirrors Hadley v. Kellogg Sales Co., which currently pending in the Northern District of California. Plaintiffs in Hadley and DiGregorio make the same claims and are represented by the same plaintiffs’ counsel.
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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).


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In the wake of the 2016 dismissal of human rights cases filed against food companies in California, a new class action case was filed on February 26, 2018 in Massachusetts federal court (Tomasella v. Hershey Co.) alleging human rights violations associated with cocoa farming and processing. At its core, the complaint is premised on a theory of unjust enrichment in violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Law—namely, that the defendants, by failing to disclose trafficking and child labor in their supply chains (and in fact asserting in their disclosures that they had “zero tolerance” for such activities), caused consumers to purchase their products when they never would have done so had they known about the purported trafficked and child labor taint in the products’ supply chains.

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food-lit-imagePerkins Coie has published its first Food Litigation Year in Review, covering key developments and trends in food litigation for calendar year 2016.  The Year in Review’s key insights include data-driven assessments of how (and where) the plaintiffs’ bar has continued its assault on the food industry in 2016. That data reflect the filing

Food companies are increasingly being challenged to police their worldwide supply chains to eliminate human rights violations.  It is no longer sufficient to focus solely on one’s own company as businesses are held responsible for the acts of others—often unknown and hidden in today’s complex supply chains.  Food companies have heightened exposure because human trafficking

Amnesty International recently released a report alleging that supply chains for production of palm oil—a common ingredient in many consumer products—are tainted by forced and child labor. In the nearly 150-page report titled “The Great Palm Oil Scandal: Labour Abuses Behind Big Brand Names,” Amnesty International accuses several major brand-name consumer goods companies of sourcing palm oil from suppliers that operate plantations where the alleged abuses took place.

The report has already received substantial media attention, including articles published by Forbes, The Washington Post, Reuters and Yahoo News. Although the accuracy of the report’s assertions have not been tested, it nonetheless emphasizes the growing importance of proper diligence in supply chain management and compliance with associated legal obligations for a company’s disclosures about its supply chain practices.


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