Chocolate companies: help end child exploitation -

End child exploitation in cocoa

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Sign the petition to tell chocolate companies to clean up their cocoa supply chain and call on the Starbucks CEO to come clean on cocoa. Urge the E.U. to compel companies to pay cocoa farmers a living income. 

Companies, stop child exploitation in cocoa!

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.

Child labor in the chocolate industry

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.

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.

Legal steps against child exploitation

The European Union is negotiating a law that could change labor practices in cocoa – the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. 9 We are urging lawmakers to include living income and fair purchases as cocoa farmers’ rights to ensure they are protected from poverty and modern slavery. Find out more about living income. 10 And write to lawmakers to ensure companies are required to pay a living income to farmers! 11

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.”12 If 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. 13

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 have to act now!

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.

  • May 24, 2024: With the passing of the CSDDD, we celebrate a win! Including provisions on living income is a significant step toward ensuring cocoa farmers earn sufficient income and don’t have to rely on modern slavery for their survival.

  • March 20, 2024: Our community’s demands were heard! Unilever and Mondelez caved to the pressure and participated in the 2024 Chocolate Scorecard. Yay for transparency!

  • March 20, 2024: The 5th edition of the Chocolate Scorecard is released!

  • January 30, 2024: A plaintiff files a class action lawsuit against Mondelez International Inc. alleging that alleges that the company engages in practices that perpetuate child labor and child slavery while falsely claiming its products are “sustainable.” Read more here.

  • Oct 13, 2020: Campaign Launches

Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.


Freedom United is interested in hearing from our community and welcomes relevant, informed comments, advice, and insights that advance the conversation around our campaigns and advocacy. We value inclusivity and respect within our community. To be approved, your comments should be civil.

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Dan McCaughern
Dan McCaughern
3 years ago

Little children exploited so richer children have treats. Not right. Not fair.

Rita Jackson
Rita Jackson
3 years ago

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.

Mary D Britt
Mary D Britt
3 years ago

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.

Brian Terry
Brian Terry
3 years ago

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.

C Stewart
C Stewart
3 years ago
Reply to  Belinda

Leftists support organic and fair trade chocolate.

Chocolate companies: help end child exploitation


Help us reach 200,000

We are calling on Chocoladenfabriken Lindt & Sprüngli AG (Switzerland), Ezaki Glico Co Ltd (Japan) , Ferrero Group (Luxembourg / Italy), Hershey Co (USA), Mars Wrigley Confectionery, division of Mars Inc (USA), Meiji Co Ltd (Japan), Mondelēz International (USA)  — including Cadbury and Toblerone, Nestlé SA (Switzerland), Pladis (UK) – including Godiva and Orion Corp (Korea):     

As the world’s largest chocolate companies, it’s high time you live up to your promise of eliminating child slavery in the cocoa sector in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, but recent reports show it still persists.

Child slavery is a complex issue, but it can be effectively tackled by addressing the root causes that put children at risk of exploitation. Accordingly, I call on you to take the following steps:

Pay cocoa farmers a living income within the next five years.

Paying a fair price for cocoa will help to prevent cocoa farmers from turning to cheap and exploitable child labor, which in some cases constitutes child slavery. Based on research by VOICE Network, this means a farm gate price (per metric ton) of $3,166.[1]

Scale up child labor monitoring and remediation systems.

Child labor monitoring and remediation systems have been successful in identifying cases of child labor, including cases of forced child labor, in conjunction with local communities. This approach must be scaled to cover 100 percent of cocoa sourced, including direct and indirect supplies. This also means the enactment of mandatory human rights due diligence within your own supply chains.

Increase transparency and traceability.

The industry has made progress on both traceability and transparency; however, we encourage all companies that have yet to make their cooperatives public to do so. Additionally, we encourage all companies to reach 100 percent traceability of their direct and indirect supply chains within the next five years.

End all deforestation, regardless of legality, in both direct and indirect supply chains.

The economic pressures on cocoa farmers have forced them to push deeper into West African forests to meet production demands, contributing to environmental damage and continued use of forced child labor to clear land.

Rapid and large-scale reduction in pesticide usage.

Pesticides pose a risk to the health of all child laborers—including those in forced labor—along with surrounding communities and communal resources, such as water and soil. The continued use of pesticides at this level is essentially poisoning children and their environments, taking away from both their futures and their future livelihoods. There are proven alternatives, and as such, there is no reason for pesticide usage to continue in this way.

Prevent child trafficking and prevent child labor.

Boys from neighboring West African countries who choose to work on cocoa farms in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire must be informed of their rights and working conditions pre-departure. Companies also need to support preventative measures against child labor, such as making education about modern slavery more accessible for communities that are vulnerable to exploitation.



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