Child Slavery: Chocolate’s Dark Side

Nestle-1Much of the chocolate that consumers buy originate and are obtained from sources in the Cote D’Ivoire (“Ivory Coast”) in West Africa.  The cocoa used to make this chocolate is harvested by slave laborers, many of whom are children not even 10 years old.  Some are abducted and kidnapped, others are sold by its family into slavery.

Right now, there are over a million children working as slaves on cocoa farms forced to do back-breaking and dangerous manual labor 100 hours a week.They are paid nothing, they are starved, and they are beaten if they try to escape.

Promises in the Dark

Chocolate products such as baking powder, bars, syrups, and spreads from the world’s largest chocolate companies, including The Hershey Company, Mars, Incorporated, and Nestle S.A. (collectively the “Big Three”), are made with cocoa beans from the Ivory Coast that are undisputedly and admittedly tainted by the use of child slave labor.

In 2001, facing harmful legislation, the the Big Three signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol for the Growing and Processing of Cocoa Beans and its Derivative Products in a Manner that Complies with ILO Convention 182 Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (“Harkin-Engel Protocol”) committing to eliminate of the ‘worst forms of child labor,’ as defined by International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 138 & 182, from its supply chain” specifically listing the following child labor practices which occur in its supply chain for its chocolate:

  • Children should not be kept from school to work on the farm.
  • Children should not carry heavy loads that harm its physical development.
  • Children should not be present on the farm while farm chemicals are applied.
  • Young children, generally considered to be under 14 years of age, should not use sharp implements.
  • Trafficking of children or forcing children to work are included
  • among the Worst Forms of Child Labor (WFCL).
  • Suppliers must not utilize or benefit in any way from forced or compulsory labor, including any forms of slavery.
  • The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them is prohibited.

Kicking the Can Down the Road

The Big Three admitted breaking their promises in 2005, 2008, and 2010 and have simply kicked the can down the road.  Now they are promising “[b]y 2020, the establishment and implementation of a credible and transparent sector-wide monitoring system across cocoa growing regions in the two countries” and – instead of the elimination promised in 2001 – “the worst forms of child labor as defined by ILO Convention 182 in the cocoa sectors of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana will be reduced by 70 percent.”2 Hershey also asserts that “it will source 100 percent certified cocoa for its global chocolate product lines by 2020.” Only 30% of its cocoa was certified at the end of 2014.

From Bad to Worse:  1.1 Million Children Are Engaged in the Worst Forms of Child Labor

The most recent report prepared by the Payson Center for International Development of Tulane University and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor is dated July 30, 2015, and entitled “Survey Research on Child Labor in West African Cocoa Growing Areas.” The summary document for the ninety-nine page report states that “the numbers of children working in cocoa production, in child labor in cocoa production, and in hazardous work in cocoa production have increased from 2008/09 to 2013/14,” with the number of children doing hazardous work in cocoa production growing by 46%.

More specifically, the 2015 Payson Report found that during the time period from 2013 to 2014 over 1.1 million children in the Ivory Coast were engaged in the most common Worst Forms of Child Labor, hazardous work, including the use of dangerous tools, transport of heavy loads, and exposure to pesticides. This was up from the 791,181 children engaged in such work at the time of the last survey in 2008 to 2009. Put another way, the 22% of children engaged in such labor in 2008 to 2009 had increased to 31% of children in 2013 and 2014.

“The 2015 Payson Report concluded that “[a]fter increases in the total number of children working in the cocoa sector in both countries combined, 1.5 million children still have to be removed from hazardous work by 2020 in order to reach the Framework of Action target.” However, “[w]ith production growing and increasing global demand for cocoa beans, production methods and/or child labor mitigation strategies need to change drastically to achieve major progress.”

A Generation of Failed West African Children

Our consumerism drives a lot of the economic motivation behind slavery. We want cheap goods, so businesses secure free, slave labor to cut labor costs.  The Big Three are well positioned to make a positive impact on the livelihoods of workers in the cocoa supply chain due to their leverage with its suppliers and the volume of cocoa beans they procures.  Likewise, the Big  Three have had the opportunity to take effective advantage of such leverage since 2001 to eliminate child and slave labor from its Ivorian supply chain as it promised, but the have  failed to do so – and accordingly, they have failed an entire generation of West African children.

Are You Buying It?

What will you do, now that you know the truth about the indefensible use of child slave labor to make the chocolate you and your children eat?  Unless we begin shopping differently, nothing will ever change. Make a positive impact and be part of the change by shifting your consumer habits.

You can make a difference.  Slave free chocolate isn’t hard to find.  For a list of chocolate companies who are proudly child slave labor free, click here or look for certifications on chocolate product labels like Fair Trade, Equal Exchange, FairTrade, and Rainforest Alliance.

Bean to bar and other ethically sourced brands can be more expensive than chocolate harvested by slaves, but the extra few cents is worth it . . . every single time.

Remember, it won’t stop until you stop buying it.


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