Eating chocolate is a luxury when you’re on a diet. It is something you crave and something you treat yourself to occasionally. For children from as young as six, who are forced to work in the chocolate industry for little to no pay, education is the sought after luxury.
It may not make for pleasant reading, but the chocolate industry is propped up by hundreds of thousands of children in Africa and Asia, working long days, in dangerous conditions. The chocolate industry is worth more than $100 billion a year, so why isn’t the issue discussed more?
Child Labor Lawsuits
Three separate groups have tried to raise awareness of the issue over the past twelve months by bringing lawsuits against three companies with clear links to child labor – Hershey, Nestle, and Mars. These big companies produce brands like:
The claims were made to the courts of California in an attempt to sue the organizations for false advertising. The case was made that these companies were lying to their consumers by not clearly stating on their packaging that their products were made using child labor.
Although the claimants were suing on behalf of the residents of California, the lawsuits were part of a wider protest about the use of child labor by multinational businesses. ‘America’s largest and most profitable food conglomerates should not tolerate child labor, much less child slave labor, anywhere in their supply chains,’ the complaint reads. ‘These companies should not turn a blind eye to known human rights abuses… especially when the companies consistently and affirmatively represent that they act in a socially and ethically responsible manner.’
All three claims have subsequently been thrown out by the courts, and no change will be made to packaging. The ruling means that you could unknowingly be eating chocolate directly made by unpaid child labor. Although this is nothing new for the chocolate industry…
History of Child Labor
Global awareness of child labor in the chocolate industry was first raised back in 2000, by the documentary Slavery: a Global Investigation. The film unearthed the story of a group of boys who had been working on large cocoa farms, as they outlined a life of beatings, back-breaking work, and heartache.
The chocolate companies at the time appeared to be shocked and horrified by the findings and pledged to eliminate child poverty in the industry by 2005. Among the eight businesses that volunteered their participation were Hershey, Mars, and Nestle. Multiple deadlines and extensions came and went before the pledge was scrapped altogether.
In 2010, a new treaty was set up called The Declaration of Joint Action to Support Implementation of the Harkin-Engel. This agreement promised to cut child labor by 70%. Despite this agreement, in 2015 Nestle admitted that part of its supply chain in Thailand used child labor. Over half-way through the treaty’s promise and the situation on the ground appears to have only gotten worse.
As the population continues to rise across Africa, particularly in the Ivory Coast – the world’s largest producer of cocoa – the number of child laborers is only going up. A recent study showed that over the past five years there had been a 21% increase in child labor in Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
One of the major issues is child trafficking. Although there is evidence that shows child trafficking has been reduced in number and ease over the past 20 years, finding trafficked children is, according to Mick Moran, Interpol’s Assistant Director in charge of human trafficking and child exploitation, ‘like shooting fish in a barrel.’ In spite of the fact that it is not ‘as bad’ as it once was.
Although strides have been made, families struggling to make ends meet are still having to pull their children out of school to support their work on the cocoa farms. This is an unfortunate necessity for poverty stricken families. Their children are forced to work with sharp and dangerous tools, with a recent study showing that 37% of children in the Ivory Coast have suffered wounds or cuts while working. All of this goes on under the noses of the conglomerates who do their best to silently sweep the issue under the rug.
Even the adult workers who are responsible for dragging their children to work with them are well below the World Bank’s internationally agreed daily pay rate that constitutes extreme poverty. That rate is $1.90 a day, which is a full $1.40 more than the average cocoa farmer in the Ivory Coast makes. The mix of desperately poor adults and exploited children is unsustainable. The simple reality is that the production of chocolate is causing untold pain and suffering.
The court ruling that chocolate companies do not have to tell their consumers if they use child labor, means that big brands such as Hershey, Mars, and Nestle, can hide their unethical profit-making practices. So don’t assume an unmarked label means anything. Steer clear of the big brands, and replace suffering-filled chocolate with organic makers who can look you in the eye and promise you that; no child was harmed in the making of this chocolate.