The world’s largest chocolate companies promised to eradicate child labor from their supply chains 20 years ago. But today, these same companies say they cannot guarantee that the chocolate you buy is free from child labor.
A key ingredient in chocolate — cocoa — is harvested from farms in Ivory Coast, and many of the young boys engaged in this dangerous labor come neighboring Burkina Faso.
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About two-thirds of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa, and in 2015 the U.S. Labor Department reported that more than 2 million children were performing dangerous labor to harvest cocoa. These kids are swinging machetes, carrying heavy loads, spraying pesticides — all considered the “worst forms of child labor” under international law.
The Washington Post explains why the top chocolate companies are still struggling to tackle the problem:
When asked this spring, representatives of some of the biggest and best-known brands — Hershey, Mars and Nestlé — could not guarantee that any of their chocolates were produced without child labor.
“I’m not going to make those claims,” an executive at one of the large chocolate companies said.
One reason is that nearly 20 years after pledging to eradicate child labor, chocolate companies still cannot identify the farms where all their cocoa comes from, let alone whether child labor was used in producing it.
Mars, maker of M&M’s and Milky Way, can trace only 24 percent of its cocoa back to farms; Hershey, the maker of Kisses and Reese’s, less than half; Nestlé can trace 49 percent of its global cocoa supply to farms.
“We haven’t eradicated child labor because no one has been forced to,” explained Antonie Fountain, managing director of the Voice Network, a group seeking to end child labor in the cocoa industry.
“What has been the consequence . . . for not meeting the goals? How many fines did they face? How many prison sentences? None. There has been zero consequence.”
One cocoa farmer interviewed by the Washington Post lamented the conditions for boys working on the farms, but he said he needed to hire them to help. He pays the “big boss” who manages the boys a little less than $9 per child for a week of work. The boys get about half of that.
“I admit that it is a kind of slavery,” the farmer said.
“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.”