Child slavery and child labor have plagued the cocoa industry in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana —which produce 60% of the world’s cocoa—for decades. Despite promises from the world’s largest chocolate companies to eradicate the problem, evidence reveals that they have fallen far short of achieving their goal. 1
We are calling on 10 of the world’s top chocolate companies to take concrete steps to address the gaps in protection and the underlying drivers of child slavery and child labor in the cocoa sector. We are joining the Fair World Project, Mighty Earth, and Be Slavery Free in our call.
This means paying impoverished cocoa farmers living incomes, ending dangerous pesticide use—noting the high prevalence of child laborers and huge environmental toll—scaling up child labor monitoring and remediation systems, enactment of human rights due diligence measures, increasing traceability, and ending deforestation.
Chocolate industry leaders promised under the Harkin-Engel Protocol nearly 20 years ago to substantially reduce the worst forms of child labor—including child slavery—in the cocoa industry but they have failed to meet that goal.2
Our new call for action comes in advance of the release of a report by independent research institution NORC at the University of Chicago, examining the prevalence of child labor in cocoa plantations in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire under the Harkin-Engel Protocol.
A leaked early version of the report 3 suggests that despite decades of hype and voluntary corporate efforts, child labor in cocoa production has increased overall. As set out in our joint press release, the report also reveals the number of child laborers being exposed to harmful pesticides has increased.4
According to the 2020 United States Trafficking in Persons Report, young boys laboring on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana find themselves subjected to human trafficking and forced labor with victims forced to perform back-breaking, hazardous work that threatens their well-being. 5Some are trafficked from neighboring West African countries, such as Burkina Faso and Mali, and controlled by a “big boss” who exploits them.6
“I admit that it is a kind of slavery,” admits one cocoa farmer. “They are still kids and they have the right to be educated today. But they bring them here to work, and it’s the boss who takes the money.”
These boys, some as young as six, are forced to spray dangerous pesticides, clear forests using sharp machetes, and carry sacks of cocoa weighing 100 pounds or more. The issue is so severe that former victims of forced child labor in Côte d’Ivoire have brought their case to the US Supreme Court, alleging that US firms were complicit in child slavery abroad. The victims claim that they were forced to work up to 14 hours a day, given only scraps of food to eat, and were severely beaten or tortured if they tried to escape. 7
Ten of the top global chocolate companies that produce candy such as M&M’s, KitKat, Ferrero Rocher, Mars, Cadbury, Lindt, Nestle, Hershey, and Godiva have long promised to step up efforts to eliminate child slavery and child labor at their supply chains’ origin in West Africa. For a product associated with luxury and indulgence such as chocolate, the exploitation and abuse of children in its production is particularly incongruous.
A 2018 study by Tulane University and Tony’s Chocoloney estimates that a large number of children in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are victims of forced labor, highlighting that many children on cocoa farms are exposed to hazardous working conditions. 8
Much of the problem is linked to chocolate companies paying extremely low prices for cocoa. Poverty is a root cause of child labor and forced labor. Unable to earn a living income for themselves, cocoa farmers may be forced to turn to young boys as a source of cheap and exploitable labor.
While many companies have turned to certification schemes and their own corporate social responsibility programs, these are not making a dent in the problem. This drives a race to the bottom with companies adopting the lowest possible standards necessary—or crafting their own—to create an ethical veneer. But statistics cut through the PR: forced child labor is not going away.
Traceability and transparency remain chronic problems for the chocolate industry. A major investigation by The Washington Post found that “Mars, maker of M&M’s and Milky Way, can trace only 24% of its cocoa back to farms; Hershey, the maker of Kisses and Reese’s, less than half; Nestlé can trace 49% of its global cocoa supply to farms.”9If companies are not able to trace and cannot fully trace their own supply chains, they should not be doing business.
But this is not just a labor issue – it is also about protecting the environment and recognizing that there is a link between child slavery and deforestation. If companies continue to destroy the farming lands, what will be left for future generations? Due to the low price of cocoa, farmers have been squeezed to expand farms, going deeper into forests and sometimes using coercion to force boys to clear land using machetes to make way for cocoa production. 10
The desperate push to increase productivity to make ends meet also has these same young boys handling increasingly more dangerous pesticides. Not only is child labor not going away, but it is also becoming more dangerous for young people to put their health and safety at risk.
We can’t let chocolate companies continue at such a low pace and work individually. We call for a combined sector approach amongst chocolate companies and all the other stakeholders to rid the industry of this blight
Chocolate should not be on the market unless it is produced ethically and is free from modern slavery.
Take action today to demand that the world’s top chocolate companies step up to fully tackle child exploitation in West African cocoa once and for all.
- https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/our-work/child-forced-labor-trafficking/child-labor-cocoa ↩
- A non-binding international agreement negotiated by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin and U.S. Representative Eliot Engel that aims to end the worst forms of child labor in the production of cocoa. It was signed in 2001 and is due to expire in 2020. ↩
- https://cdns.freedomunited.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/13104029/Press-Release-Child-Labor-in-Cocoa-Farms.pdf ↩
- http://www.iradvocates.org/news/nestle/department-labor-study-child-labor ↩
- https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-trafficking-in-persons-report/ ↩
- https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-trafficking-in-persons-report/ ↩
- https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-01-14/u-s-supreme-court-signals-interest-in-child-slavery-cocoa-lawsuit ↩
- https://cocoainitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Cocoa-Report_181004_V15-FNL_digital.pdf ↩
- https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/business/hershey-nestle-mars-chocolate-child-labor-west-africa/ ↩
- https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/climate-environment/mars-chocolate-deforestation-climate-change-west-africa/ ↩
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Little children exploited so richer children have treats. Not right. Not fair.
Little children exploited so that grown men become wealthier… nothing to do with who eats it, but I don’t buy from these companies because they have a history of turning a blind eye to the deprivations of the labour of their suppliers.
You’ll see that these companies are all owned either directly or indirectly by the world’s largest funds Vanguard/Blackrock
Leftists and rioters eat chocolate too. lol
Heck of a way to claim neutrality. The passive aggressive “lol” doesn’t help.
Yeah, and they don’t buy from companies who use slave labor.
Belinda, pray, whom do you call rioters? Anfd what is your point exactly?
So what would you do to stop children being used as slave labour, then?
Leftists support organic and fair trade chocolate.
I wrote to Lindt. I told them that I would pay more for chocolate if they could commit to ending slavery. I love Lindt chocolate but I will not support slavery.
If everyone bought fairtrade then all of the companies would feel the need for change. Not all people care or understand the significance of this issue.
fairtrade is nowhere near a guarantee that ecploitation isn’t occuring. It’s like the Australia live meat export trade where we sell to “authorised” abattoirs but all that actually means is that they’ve been notified that they were going to be inspected, and then they were visited maybe once a year if that. And yet many of our livestock die horrible deaths at the hands in Muslim / Asian abattoirs (and that is before many of them suffer horrible conditions – while being transported in huge ships
I only buy Fairtrade cocoa products and I boycott all companies that do not use Fairtrade ingredients in cocoa products. It is that simple for me. Fairtrade guarantees no child labour.
Fair Trade has absolutely nothing to do with child labor. Fair Trade means that the farmer is getting paid well.
No child labour is one of the cornerstones of the Fairtrade movement. I have met workers from a Fairtrade co-operative in Ghana and know they use no child labour. Fairtrade is so much more than just guaranteeing the price of cocoa.
If farmers are well paid, they will not need to make their children work, too, to earn a living for the whole family; they will be able to send them to school, where they belong. Fair trade is therefore the best solution available to consumers at present. The fact that it is not a perfect solution doesn’t mean we should discard it.
I only buy chocolate that is 100% guaranteed to not be produced with child labour. Fair-trade cannot guarantee that. They only visit once per year and farms are notified ahead of time so they send the children away and hire adults for the day of the inspection. The only way to guarantee your chocolate has no child labour is to buy from boutiques that use cocoa grown in Australia or other developed countries. Charley’s is one, although they use cocoa from PNG and Timor (I think?) as well as austral Ian cocoa. The one I prefer is Daintrees. Their chocolate… Read more »
Thank you. I am with you.
I don’t buy chocolate unless it’s made in Australia anyway – I trust very few food companies and especially if it’s cocoa related as it is grown in countries where it is too easy to exploit people. Plus, too many food miles – it’s an excessive luxury item. I vote with my feet and just refuse to buy it. Eat Australian carob instead and consume minimally as if it’s a REAL treat. “Power-down” the global economy. “Down-shift” … it’s the way of the future.
Tonié, we really don’t produce very much cocoa in Australia, so please just be careful not to confuse the issue with whether the chocolate you consume is Australian made. Just coz it’s made here doesn’t mean it has been made from cocoa that wasn’t imported from these questionable farms.
If there were a boom in Oz-produced carob consumption, don’t you think the big “food” corporations you so rightly despise would get in on the act? They would most certainly harvest from monocultural plantations with all the devastating repercussions for the general environment those entail. And what would the peasant cocoa farmers in Africa do if the market value of their produce were to plummet (as it would). Have you considered that? I never buy processed food, not even in organic food shops,
It may not be ideal, but what woukd happen to these farmers if the cocoa market collspsed? They might end up with nothing! I agree fir fair trade. Love chocolate. But be careful not to make the situation worse.
Is being a slave really a status worth protecting. If the slave market collapses that doesn’t mean that ‘nothing’ will take its place. And it doesn’t follow that breaking the cycle of slavery will break the cocoa market. It is a false zero sum game.
This campaign is to create awareness so that we, as consumers, become more conscient about the products we purchase and refuse to buy from companies that use (or potentially use) slave labour – force those companies to ensure owners of the farms they source from pay salaries and guarantee living conditions for the people working in the cocoa farming. These multinational companies have the power to do it. We as consumers, together and in a concerted effort, have the capacity to force the multinational companies to stop this, we are the ones with buying power. It is not to destroy… Read more »
They’d end up having to grow drugs, now wouldn’t that be great. It’s big problem that can’ be fixed by not buying chocolate produced in these countries.