The Dark Side of Chocolate

It’s that time of year, when it starts getting cooler, the leaves change, and people go out and buy obscene amounts of candy to celebrate one of America’s favorite holidays, Halloween.  I’m sure no one would be surprised to learn that a large majority of those sales are made up of chocolate.  In fact, Americans purchase about 90 million pounds of chocolate in the weeks leading up to Halloween, more than Easter or Valentine’s Day.  But what most of us probably don’t think about is where that chocolate comes from.

About 70% of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa, with 46% coming from Côte d’Ivoire alone.  The problem facing the cocoa farmers then, is how to meet this demand.  According to the State Department, it would seem that they’ve turned to child slave labor, with as many as 200,000 children working on the farms.  Traffickers promise food, homes, and education to entice parents to send or in some cases, sell their children.  Most of these children are young boys, between the ages of 9-12, who have no idea of the industry or product that their labor is supporting.

This is a problem that affects all countries that import cocoa products because while not all farmers use slave labor, the beans that are picked by the children and beans that are picked by legitimate workers are usually mixed together for shipping and processing, leaving it impossible to separate them out.  Inevitably, beans that are the result of child slavery are dispersed throughout the industry.

Until about 10 years ago, the major chocolate companies claimed ignorance of the real origins of their products.  In 2001, two US Congressmen worked with the heads of the chocolate industry to create the Harkin-Engel Protocol (or the Cocoa Protocol), which called for immediate action to eliminate child labor.  The World Cocoa Association and the Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association agreed to develop and implement voluntary standards to certify cocoa production.  It was agreed that by July 2005, the chocolate industry would develop their standards of certification.  They failed to meet this deadline and were given 3 more years.  Another 3 years after that, and they still have not completed their agreement under the Protocol.

In the last few years, many chocolate companies such as Kraft, Mars, Cadbury, and Nestle have started to use fair trade certified cocoa and demonstrated some commitment towards working on a certification program. Noticeably missing from that list though, and ranked as the worst offender, unfortunately, is America’s favorite chocolate maker, Hershey’s, who is responsible for 43% of the chocolate we buy.  Activists have started the “Raise the Bar” campaign, calling for more transparency and the certification of their supply chain, as well as a boycott of their product for the upcoming holiday.

So before you unwrap that chocolate bar this Halloween, take a minute to stop and think about where it really came from.

 

12 comments

  1. I think it is important that activists keep pushing this issue because it needs more recognition. American’s are most likely not going to stop their chocolate consumption, especially around Halloween, unless they are made aware of what is really going on in the international chocolate industry. It is shocking to me that there are still countries that find it acceptable to use child labor, and it is even more shocking that American companies are comfortable turning a blind eye to it. I also think that the World Cocoa Association and the Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association have not done their part to help make a change. Even if the voluntary standards those Associations discussed had been developed and implemented, the fact that they were voluntary implies that most countries would just continue doing what they are doing. If chocolate companies do not force the issue themselves and stop working with these countries nothing will ever change.

  2. I would really be interested in seeing the reactions to this sort of article in a larger setting such as New York Times, CNN, or some other major news promoter. People really need to be aware of, while they are preparing for Halloween and making plans to party with their friends, the costs these festivities bring to the international community. People tend to keep a blind eye about things like this. They acknowledge them briefly and then hide them in the back of their minds. Nevertheless, I do not think this is something that they could hide from themselves very well.
    What would people do if they were told the chocolate that is the source of their Halloween pleasures came from child labor and slavery? As I mentioned earlier, I would really be interested in seeing a large scale reaction to this information. Personally, I am quite shocked by it. This is not to say that I did not know that practices such as child labor and slavery still exist in globally uncomfortable amounts, but I was surprised to learn of the extent of their effect in this particular sphere. I look forward to following up on this topic and seeing what others have to say about it.

  3. This post demonstrates another classic case of the dark side of capitalism. Although many consumers feel a sense of guilt in enjoying a product produced by unethical means, the chocolate companies are in the position to take action and remedy the problem. The issue, however, is that the companies’ main focus is making profits and the benefits of cheap supplies (lower prices based on cheaper labor) and ethical good will is only secondary. In the pursuit of maximized profits the chocolate companies’ either choose to overlook or simply don’t care about their supplier’s ethical practices. Clearly these companies could do business with suppliers who only have adult employees or at the very least help suppliers finance better working conditions and wages for those child workers. I understand and agree with the strong sentiment against child labor, but the harsh economic realities often leave these children and their families with no other choice but to seek employment at a young age. It is no secret that children work in many areas of the world, albeit some work in rural villages supporting local economies as opposed to working for suppliers who eventually sell to the world’s more prominent companies. If the consumers stop buying chocolate that has its origins in child labor, the children will still end up working somewhere else as demand in a different industry presents a financial opportunity. Until these foreign nations can reach a point where the economic necessities of the children and their families reach a point where child labor can be completely eliminated, I don’t think it too much to ask profitable companies to endure relatively small profit losses in aiding these children.

  4. I’m glad that you wrote this blog post, because I, probably like so many other ignorant chocolate consumers, had no idea where/how the chocolate I eat is produced. While conditions like this are terrible and should not be occurring to begin with, I think it is very important that some initiatives have been taken to combat the problem of child slaves who work to produce the cocoa beans that are made into chocolate.
    This problem is seemingly similar to many child labor problems that we have seen in the past. Largely, it reminds me of when many consumers were unaware about the sweatshops that existed throughout the world, and the conditions in which Nike employed child laborers.
    While legislation is an obvious way to begin to combat this problem, I believe that spreading knowledge is another positive way to initiate change. When Americans realized where their beloved Nike products were coming from, many Americans took a stand and refused to buy the products until conditions were improved. Now that I am aware that Hershey’s Chocolate is ranked as the worst offender in the child labor problem, I will refuse to purchase or eat Hershey’s until they initiate change.
    I think it is our civic duty to inform others of conditions to which they are unaware, because once people are well informed, they will be able to make well informed decisions about the products they use, and the foods they consume. When more people know about the labor conditions that plague the chocolate industry, more people will be able to take a stand and no longer support the companies that utilize child labor and unsafe working conditions.
    The next time I have a sweet tooth and find myself oogling over the candy bars, I know that I will be looking for one that ensures it is fair trade certified.

  5. Even if chocolate consumers were made aware of the source of their delectable treat, I am not sure it would reduce consumption to a drastic degree. The companies will have to take action to alter their supply chain in order to remedy the problem. As abhorrent as child labor is, boycotting goods these companies may not help the situation. Consumers would simply be taking food and shelter from these children who may be worse off without these jobs. It is a difficult situation for any consumer and any company, but change has to begin through the supply chain of these major companies. Perhaps an international treaty would remedy this problem, but there will always be ways to sneak around it and there will always be companies who are willing to use suppliers who employ these children.

  6. As someone posted above, situations such as these are part of the dark side of capitalism. As such, the supply is a response to the demand. If people didn’t buy the chocolate, the companies wouldnt purchase the coca and so on. Consumers need to realize that living in our capitalist society that each and every one of us wield the power to support or destroy industries such as this. While there is certainly a role for law makers to make changes, a large part of the responsibility falls on us consumers. If there is no economic incentive for the corporations to change their suppliers then they wont do so especially since they are likely using these suppliers because they are a cheap source of cocoa.

    Another factor that plays into practices such as slavery being supported is the desire to buy the cheapest products possible. The need to drive prices down so you can buy a huge bag of chocolates at Walmart is a contributing factor to unpaid child slaves being used in the production of the products.

    The sad part is that people hear this story today and are outraged, perhaps they will even think twice before buying that bag of Hersheys candy when its 50% off in the store because Halloween has passed. But most likely it wont impact most people’s buying habits and then in a few weeks those same people that were so outraged wont even think of it again. Americans need to be more conscientious about the products that they buy and therefore support. There are so many practices in producing various products (from animal testing to factor farming) that are disgusting and immoral and yet when the information isnt being actively presented, a large amount of the population will be quick to forget and reluctant to change their habits.

  7. This post, and the comments that follow, bring to light disturbing issues that are inseparably bound to the commodities we love so much. First to my mind are blood diamonds- or as they are more palatably called, conflict diamonds. This term refers to diamonds, the sales of which directly finance warlords in their activities of insurgency, war, oppression, slave labor, torture, and slaughter.

    A friend once asked me for advice in buying an engagement ring. It was important to both him and his fiancé that the ring be made in such a way that it does not harm people or the environment. A noble thought, but that’s not how it works. I could certainly get him certified ‘conflict free’ stones from Canada- they would come with documentation certifying that the diamonds originated from a legitimate mine (the “Kimberly Process”). But, it’s not true that all conflict diamonds are filtered from retail by the Kimberly Process.

    Further, there is no environmentally friendly way to mine gold, diamonds, or any other stone for that matter. It’s all done by strip mining. In order to separate the gold form the ore, they run the ore through cyanide. And, that cyanide then leeches into the groundwater.

    Do you like wearing gold, silver, platinum, diamonds (eating chocolate)? Well then get use to the fact that it hurts people and harms the environment. See, the simple truth here is that whenever money is involved, the people and the environment come second.

  8. Is it our job, as US citizens, to worry about what is in our Halloween candy? Shouldn’t the government protect us from feeling guilty after indulging in our favorite chocolate bar? The government should prevent chocolate bars manufactured by child labor to being placed on the shelves. While we live in a democracy where the government does not control the way we live our lives, doesn’t the government have the power to first, force products to meet standards and second, only allow products that meet a national standard to be shipped into the US? But, it is not that easy.

    But, now that we are aware of the alleged practices used to manufacture chocolate, can you enjoy your chocolate bar without knowing for sure how that chocolate bar was made?

  9. Is Hershey’s is beginning to bow to public pressure? Raise the Bar has launched an (apparently successful) social media campaign against Hershey’s- the company considered by many to be the worst offender in supporting farms using child slaves. Raise the Bar has generated more than 100,000 letters to Hershey’s, and on Halloween, they organized supporters to dress up in costume and deliver the letters. More recently, Raise the Bar organized a brand-jamming contest, in which participants flooded the internet with mock commercials and slogans featuring Hershey’s products in an effort to reveal the realities of cocoa production in West Africa. Soon after, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) purchased an advertising slot for the Super Bowl on a jumbotron outside the Lucas Oil Stadium, on which they were to broadcast a video called ‘Hershey’s Chocolate, Kissed by Child Labor.’ “On the day the Super Bowl ad was announced, Hershey’s released a statement detailing steps it would take toward improving labor and sustainability practices, including a $10 million investment in its West African suppliers. That was enough to buy the company a temporary reprieve from the ILRF” (http://sacurrent.com/dining/food/hershey-s-west-african-child-labor-and-the-promise-of-brazil-s-cabruca-system-1.1268037).

  10. Though I have commented here twice before, I feel it necessary to do so again. The unfortunate truth is that we have no reason to be even half as optimistic about Hershey’s commitment to change as my most recent comment (directly above) would otherwise suggest.

    The Kimberly Process is a filtration system whereby retail diamonds can, theoretically, be certified as originating from a legitimate source. I say theoretically because your ‘legitimate source’ is most often the government; but what good is this when the government is (or is controlled by) war lords? The same goes for ‘fair trade certified chocolate.’ Governments and industry are not going to police themselves when the target of regulation is that which makes themselves rich.

  11. Even when chocolate customers were made conscious of the origin of the delectable treat, I don’t know it might reduce consumption to some drastic degree. The businesses will need to do something to change their supply chain to be able to remedy the issue. As abhorrent as child labor is, boycotting goods these businesses might not assist the situation. Customers would just be taking food and shelter from all of these children who might be worse off without these jobs. It’s a difficult situation for just about any consumer and then any company, but change needs to begin with the supply chain of those major companies. Possibly an worldwide treaty would remedy this issue, but there’ll always be methods to sneak around it and there’ll always be companies who are prepared to use providers who employ these children.

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