Chocolate. That delicious treat that has become a mainstay in our lives. We use it as a romantic treat. A nourishing superfood. A reward when we’ve accomplished something big. It is a gift. It is a tradition on holidays. And it is everywhere.
But what if you knew that the chocolate you so enjoy came to you from the hands of a child not much older than 11? Would you still buy it? Could you enjoy it as much? Or would you just turn around and bury your head in proverbial chocolate-filled sand and not hear or see what was going on around you?
In a very in-depth report from The Washington Post, reporters Peter Whoriskey and Rachel Siegel found that child labor is still widely used in the chocolate industry. Despite the deadlines and agreements from major companies (Hershey’s, Nestlé, Mars) to remove children from the cacao farms by 2010, it has been estimated that over 2 million children are still present there. From The Washington Post: “About two-thirds of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa where, according to a 2015 U.S. Labor Department report, more than 2 million children were engaged in dangerous labor in cocoa-growing regions.”
These previously mentioned chocolate giants pledged 20 years ago to eradicate child labor from their farms. Given the fact that the chocolate industry brings in at least $60 billion (The Washington Post says $106 billion), you would think that this would be an attainable goal. It’s been 20 years, right? The response from Hershey, Nestlé, and Mars, when asked if child labor was used for their chocolate, was unanimous: they could not guarantee that child labor was not used.
So what does this labor look like? Sometimes it looks like trying to support one’s family in the face of poverty. Sometimes it looks like being stolen from one’s family. Sometimes being sold by one’s own family because of promises of money that will never be paid. Sometimes beaten. Overworked. Underpaid. Underfed. Under sheltered. Underloved. Underappreciated. Under the thumb of a corporate giant who makes false claims about the purity of the source for the growth of the company. Under the wrapper of the chocolate in your cupboard, the probability that the blood, sweat, and tears of one or more of these 2 million children exist, unrecognizable, is very high. Their trip may begin as a bus ride from their home to the Ivory Coast, where 33% of the world’s chocolate supply is exported from. These children may be bought, bribed, sold or are leaving voluntarily with the promise of money that, in the end, turns out to be about 85 cents a day. The Washington Post reported that many of these kids see their families rarely, if ever again. It is on these cocoa farms that these children arrive to perform “arduous manual labor and stay year-round. There is land to be cleared, typically with machetes; sprayings of pesticide; and more machete work to gather and split open the cocoa pods. Finally, the work involves carrying sacks of cocoa that may weigh 100 pounds or more.”
Let’s break this candy chain down so we can be clear what brands are owned by these companies. Mars makes M&M’s, Snickers, Milky Way, Twix, and Dove brand chocolates, plus 24 lesser-known brands. Hershey’s produces Reese’s, Whoppers, York Peppermint Patties, Almond Joy, and Mounds, plus all products labeled with the obvious Hershey’s name. Nestlé makes Butterfingers, Nesquick and all Nestlé Toll House brands of chocolate. Please, bear in mind that these are ONLY the chocolate products these companies produce and at least one of these companies lay claim to products in almost every category imaginable: baby foods, bottled water, cereals, confectionery, coffee, culinary and cooking, chilled and frozen food, dairy, drinks, professional food service, health care, nutrition, ice cream, and pet care.
Godiva could also not guarantee that children were not involved in the production of their chocolate.
In 2011, Danish journalist Miki Mistrati produced the film, The Dark Side of Chocolate. He was investigating the use of child labor and trafficked children in chocolate production. It is filmed by U. Roberto Romano. The filming started in Germany, where Mistrati asked if they knew the source of their chocolate. Then he and filmer U. Roberto Romano flew to Mali, where many of the children are from. They explored the Ivory Coast where the cocoa plantations are located. The film ends in Switzerland where both the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Nestle headquarters are located. Much of the footage in this documentary is recorded using a secret camera located in a bag Mistrati carries with him. He filmed illegal child labor on these farms, including those certified by Utz and Rainforest Alliance. You may watch The Dark Side of Chocolate here.
Now, let’s take a moment to look at ‘Interesting Candy Fact’ number two from www.chegg.com.
2. An incredible 90 million pounds of chocolate candy is sold during Halloween week, taking a strong lead compared to other holidays. Almost 65 million pounds are sold during the week leading up to Easter and only 48 million pounds during Valentine’s week.
On one “holiday” alone, 90 million pounds of chocolate are bought and distributed in America. In a country where 1.25 million children suffer from diabetes, 90 million pounds of chocolate are encouraged to be ‘trick-or-treated’ by children who may or may not be sick from sugar consumption; chocolate that has a high likelihood of being tainted with the blood of one of the 2 million children who are involved in the growing, harvesting and processing of cocoa.
It is possible to buy chocolate that is guaranteed to be produced without child labor and with the workers paid a living wage. Kelly Johnson, chocolatier at ChocolaTree in Sedona, Arizona, has visited the cacao farms where he sources his chocolate and has a relationship with the farmers that export the beans he uses to make his artisan chocolates. Johnson’s cacao source goes beyond ‘Fair Trade’, as fair trade can be a 10% increase in money exchanged for goods, which may not, in the case of cocoa production in the Ivory Coast, be enough to raise the farmers out of poverty. Food Empowerment Project has compiled a list of brands that they have investigated to provide consumers with ways to buy ethically produced chocolate. Yes, this chocolate may cost more, but this is where this child-labor problem is stemmed from: poverty. And poverty, in this case meaning that those with the resources are not willing to demand companies to change and pay more for a product which leads to the exploitation of children.
The Washington Post article ends on a positive note. A small Dutch company is doing things differently. Tony’s Chocolonely is willing to pay 40% more for the cocoa he uses, which, in the end, is an extra $520. Paul Schoenmakers, a Tony’s company executive, says that this increases Tony’s Chocol