Written by: Robert Boneberg
We love chocolate. Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, chocolate drinks, chocolate cake, chocolate candy, chocolate presented as individual gold wrapped pieces, and chocolate pouring from fountains. To ensure that we all have enough, we give each other chocolate on Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, and on other occasions throughout the year.
Some folks attempt to exercise willpower, dietary or budgetary, over the call of chocolate. But, advertising, and societal expectations are designed to overcome any such hesitations. Chocolate is presented as sinuous and sensuous, and enhanced by added ingredients such as caramel or sea salt. Can one really conceive of a Valentine’s Day where chocolate is not found at every turn?
The allure of chocolate goes beyond its taste and appearance. The biggest pull of chocolate is its ability to generate money. Worldwide chocolate revenue exceeds $120 billion on an annual basis.
All this chocolate and all this money comes at a cost, and that cost is one of the worst forms of exploitation, including modern slavery, of children and others working on cocoa farms in West Africa. Cocoa harvested primarily in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana flows out from there to end up in the products of household names such as Nestle, Mars, and Godiva.
Poverty is widespread among cocoa-growing communities and is a key driver of many other issues, including forced and child labor and deforestation. Snack food giant Mondelez International, which makes Oreos, Toblerone and Chips Ahoy among other popular products, is currently facing a class action lawsuit for child labor and child slavery. The lawsuit claims the company pays cocoa farmers only $3 a day which incentivizes child slavery. The average cocoa farmer earns as little as US$1.20 per day. If the farmer seeks to cut expenses, it is obvious that children work more cheaply than adults, and forced labor is cheapest of all.
“I admit that it is a kind of slavery,” says 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.”
The solution to this ingrained problem is living wages for farmers and robust supply chain transparency. Why are there still companies earning billions in revenue that can’t trace their supply chains? Why aren’t they made to investigate and report on how their cocoa is harvested? How can it be legal for you to pick up chocolate made with forced child labor at your local grocery store?
The answer is a lack of willpower by the chocolate industry, by government, and even by consumers like me. Business as usual will not eradicate forced child labor from the chocolate industry. If we are willing to wait for the chocolate industry to correct this problem, we will be having this same conversation 10 years from now. Ending forced child labor in the chocolate industry is not a matter of buying only from those few smaller companies that can trace all their chocolate to its source. This is an industry-wide problem that demands an industry-wide solution.
So, what can we do? An executive from a large chocolate company once told me that they never felt any pressure from consumers on these issues. Maybe we all need to exercise our willpower.
The next time you buy a box of candy, or baking chocolate, or chocolate syrup, ask the seller how they know that this product was not created in part with child labor. Because they probably will not have an answer at hand, they will probably need to let you know the next time you come by. Ask again. And, again. Not a big chocolate buyer? No problem!
You can ask the world’s top companies to step up to fully tackle child exploitation in West African cocoa once and for all – right from the comfort of your own home. You can also drive change by reading the 2023 Chocolate Scorecard to get informed about which brands are raising the bar and which are lagging behind. Finally, join us in calling on the E.U. to pay cocoa farmers a living wage.
It is only through our collective and continuing demands that we can compel the change that is long-overdue. Someday, perhaps, we can enjoy chocolate on Valentine’s Day without wondering who really paid for it.