From cookies to ice cream to hot cocoa or candy, chocolate is a part of many people’s daily lives. An unparalleled comfort food, the only consideration usually given to chocolate is its calorie count or price point. What’s not often examined is the ethicality of the production itself.
Chocolate is a $100 billion industry, yet the people who make it possible are rarely compensated fairly.
The majority of cacao — beans that are roasted to make cocoa powder — are produced in Africa. In fact, 70% of the world’s cacao is sourced from Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. This cacao is often harvested by children referred to as “chocolate slaves” because of the similarity of their plight to that of formerly enslaved plantation workers.
These children come into the industry via any number of nefarious ways. Some are sold by or work for their parents, while others are kidnapped, trafficked or convinced to move from neighboring countries by the promise of education and a better life. No matter their origin, they face the same fate: low or no-pay work with dangerous chemicals and tools “that international authorities consider the “worst forms of child labor,” according to the Washington Post. Child labor is well-documented within the chocolate industry, and continued conversation about this fact must aim to keep companies accountable.
In 2001, chocolate magnates like Hershey, Nestlé and Mars signed the Harkin-Engel protocol, a U.S. Congress initiative to ensure that U.S. chocolate is made without “the worst forms of child labor” and to eventually eliminate child slavery in U.S. chocolate production. This voluntary agreement expired in 2005 with the majority of signees unable to meet the standards developed by the program. Other deadlines were established and agreements were made, but Hershey, Nestlé and Mars, in particular, remain unable to trace the majority of their cacao supply or guarantee that it’s obtained without the use of child labor.
Mondelez International, another major producer and parent company of Cadbury and Nabisco has taken a different tactic to avoid investigation. Cadbury’s famous Dairy Milk chocolate, for example, used to be Fairtrade certified — verified by a third-party agency as made in line with an “equitable model.” However, in 2017 Mondelez replaced the Fairtrade label on their products with the Cocoa Life certification, an equity standard drawn up by Mondelez itself as well as its cocoa farmer partners. Geoff White, chief executive of Trade Aid, called this move “a terrible step back.” Removal of an objective third party threatens the transparency necessary to maintain ethical standards.
In short, no one is being forced to uphold ethical standards or suffering consequences for not doing so. This is particularly disturbing because it’s not an impossible thing to do. Theo Chocolate, a Seattle based confectionary, was founded on the principle that “chocolate can be made in a way that allows everyone in the bean-to-bar process to thrive.”They undergo third-party verification, ensure stable pricing to benefit farmers and consumers and pride themselves on full transparency regarding their business practices. Theo Chocolate offers a wide range of products through a variety of merchants and is certified Fair for Life by Ecocert.
Unethical practices in chocolate production have become accepted to the extent that it’s difficult to locate an independent fair trade guarantee in many candy aisles, ingredient lists or restaurant certifications. “Chocolate slavery” has been public knowledge for nearly 20 years, yet its greatest proponents face perhaps less backlash now than they did then. The exploitation of children for ease and profit isn’t something that can be allowed to slip under the rug.
Worries about competitive pricing and the willingness of the consumer to purchase have been central to the discussion. The case remains, though, that chocolate is a good, a luxury good, for which children are facing danger and subjugation. Nearly 1.8 million children in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana alone may face those worst forms of child labor, according to Tulane University. The public must demand that producers can track and guarantee the ethicality of their product.
Fairtrade and ethical practice must be a non-negotiable standard for cocoa farmers and chocolate manufacturers alike. No milkshake, candy bar or chocolate chip cookie is worth child endangerment.
Caroline Rose is a sophomore writing, rhetoric and technical communication major. Contact Caroline at email@example.com.