The Chocolate Industry and Child Labor
by Marianna Williams
Contrary to popular belief, slavery is still in existence today, and many of the products all around the world are made by slaves. Although slavery was abolished in America in the 1800’s, it still continues today in other parts of the world, and the chocolate industry is one of the most prominent users of child slave labor. “The six largest cocoa producing countries are the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, and Cameroon,” with the Ivory Coast being the largest of the six, providing 43% of the world’s cocoa. Although the United States does not directly partake in the use of child slave labor, much of its imported cocoa is shipped from countries whose exported cocoa is made by child slave labor. The use of child slave labor in the production of chocolate is an important, albeit not well publicized, issue.
“Work performed by children under the age of 18 (depending on the country), long hours of work on a regular or full-time basis, abusive treatment by the employer, and no access, or poor access, to education” is considered child slave labor.
“In 2000, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that 211 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 were economically active worldwide.” Many of these children work for extremely low wages, less than a dollar a day even. Their conditions are extremely brutal; much of the work they perform is hazardous to their health, and if they misbehave often they are often physically beaten by their employers. Not only is it likely that they suffer physical abuse, but most are mentally scarred after these traumatic experiences. Most have very little, if any education, and because they are forced to work, have no access to continue whatever education they have.
“In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly defined human trafficking as "the illegal and clandestine movement of persons across national and international borders. . . With the end goal of forcing women and children into ... Economically oppressive and exploitative situations for profit…" ” Many children are trafficked into slavery each year despite the fact that it is extremely immoral and these children are facing extremely brutal, inhumane conditions.
In the Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire), most of the slaves are boys ages 12 to 16 who are trafficked from their homes to work on large cocoa plantations. Many of these boys come from the poorest of families, who are forced to beg for food. The slave traders come in and offer jobs, which they accept, but then they are forced to work long hours under extremely inhumane conditions for low pay. Most are barely better off than they were before. There are about 600,000 cocoa plantations in Cote d'Ivoire, with about 15,000 slaves in total.
In 2009, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) rated several chocolate companies based on their participation in the use of child labor, and their willingness to end child labor in the production of their products. Companies such as Hershey, M&M/Mars and Nestle were rated “bitter” because of their continued use of imported cocoa made by the hands of child laborers. Although Hershey and M&M/Mars have began to take a few small steps towards a more ethical production of chocolate, for the most part they remain unchanged. Nestle has done even less than either Hershey or M&M/Mars. “Like Mars and Nestlé, Hershey has not effectively provided transparency and accountability in its cocoa supply chain.” This means that all three companies have not provided the locations from which they buy their cocoa, and have not taken many steps to ensure their chocolate is free of child slave labor.
The companies Godiva, Starbucks, Ghiradelli/Lindt, and Endangered Species Chocolate were rated “bitter-sweet” by ILRF because although they are not completely free of slave labor, they have begun to take steps to prevent the use of child slavery in the production of their chocolate. Godiva has done very little in the way of preventing slave chocolate; however they recently switched ownership so it is possible that this will have an effect on where they buy their cocoa from. Starbucks, although more known for its coffee production than chocolate, has begun to take the beginning steps in preventing slave labor in the chocolate they use. Ghiradelli/Lindt has actually posted the locations from which they purchase their cocoa, however as they stated that they purchase it from Central and South America and Ghana, it is completely possible their chocolate has been produced by child slaves. Once a slavery free chocolate company, Endangered Species Chocolate recently decided to stop its Fair Trade Certification, although it does still make a point of identifying its cocoa suppliers.
The companies Sweet Earth Chocolates, Equal Exchange, and Divine Chocolate were all rated “the sweetest” by the ILRF for their work in ensuring their chocolate is produced ethically and out of the hands of slave labor. Sweet Earth Chocolates is a small chocolate company that is both organic and Fair Trade Certified. Equal Exchange is also organic and Fair Trade, and not only do they guarantee that their cocoa is free of slave labor, but the other products involved in chocolate production are also free of slave labor. Divine Chocolate also ensures slave free chocolate. These three companies show that it is not necessary to use child slave labor as a means for producing chocolate.
Although it is true that child slave labor is a large factor in the chocolate industry, this does not have to be so. Already some companies, like the aforementioned Sweet Earth Chocolates, Equal Exchange, and Divine Chocolates are making progress with this. In 2001, the Harkin-Engel Protocol was introduced. “This protocol signed by all of the major importers and manufactures of cocoa called for a vast reduction in the problem by 2005 and another milestone in 2008. Sadly, there is little evidence that anything has changed.” However, since then, some progress is beginning to be made. In 2009, both M&M/Mars (previously mentioned for using cocoa produced by slave labor) and Cadbury “announced their commitment to ‘ethical sourcing’.” M&M/Mars is beginning to put the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal on some of their candies, which means that at least 30% is free of slave labor. Although it is not 100%, it is a start.
Another type of certification is called Fair Trade. If a chocolate is Fair Trade Certified, it means that 100% of it is free of slave labor. The following companies have listed their products as slave free: Chuao, Denman Island Chocolate, Divine Chocolate Co., The Endangered Species Chocolate Company, Equal Exchange, Green and Black's, Health by Chocolate, Ithaca Fine Chocolates, Lake Champlain, L.A. Burdick Chocolates, La Siembra Cooperative, Malagasy, Max Havelaar, Mayordomo, Montezuma's Chocolates, Newman's Own Organics, Nirvana Chocolates, Omanahene Cocoa Bean Company, Original Hawaiian Chocolate, Plamil Organic Chocolate, Rapunzel Pure Organics, San Francisco Chocolate Factory, Shaman Chocolates, Sweet Earth Chocolates, Terra Nostra Organic, Theo Chocolate, Tony Chocolonely, Trader Joe's Organic Chocolate Bars, and Yachana Gourmet. Although this list has not been certified, these companies are trying to take steps to produce chocolate made away from the hands of child slavery.
Although it is not often publicized and discussed, the use of child slave labor is a large issue in the world today. Many children, especially in West Africa, are taken from their homes and forced to work long hours for extremely low wages and in horrendous conditions. Most have very little or no education, and will receive no more. They are often injured working, or physically beaten by cruel employers. Many of these children are mentally scarred after working like this. The chocolate industry has been using children as a source of labor for years, and although the United States abolished slavery many years ago, its chocolate companies still purchase cocoa from places like the Ivory Coast, who use children as a labor source. However, many companies are beginning to take steps to produce slave free chocolate by being either Rainforest Alliance Certified or Fair Trade Certified.