Chocolate and Child Slavery

About ten years ago reports started to surface alleging that West African cocoa production was tainted with child slavery. Well, it’s no longer an allegation. It is now considered fact throughout the industry.

Over 15,000 children have been used as slaves to grow chocolate in recent years, and those are only the kids between 9 and 12 years old. One estimate for Ivory Coast says that over 90% of the country’s cocoa farms have used child labor, a staggering figure for the country that produces half of the world’s chocolate.

Child slavery has been linked to some of the best-known chocolate companies in the world, including Hershey’s, Nestle, and Godiva. It is impossible for these companies to prove that their chocolate is not tainted with slavery, and they admit it. The beans all get mixed together during production, which makes most chocolate affected in some way.

Typically the slaves are young boys from Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, and Togo who are tricked into slavery with promises that they will be able to make money for their families. Deeply respectful of their parents, the boys eagerly agree because they want to provide for their mothers and fathers any way they can. But when they are taken across the border, many of them never see their families again. The going rate is $30/boy.

Conditions on the farms for these boys are brutal. They eat corn paste and burnt bananas, or nothing if they are being punished. Beatings and whippings occur daily. Beds consist of wooden slabs, and the small room where they all sleep is locked down at night so that they can’t escape. Some of the smallest boys are expected to carry bags of cocoa beans that are taller than they are. When they can’t hold the weight, they are severely beaten. Many of the boys, when found by authorities, have healed scars as well as open wounds all over their bodies.

A few children have escaped and reported the abuses. Unfortunately, because they are then sent home to their parents, the perpetrators do not have any witnesses to accuse them at trial. They often go free after a few nights in jail.

The Chocolate Manufacturers Association and some non-profits are working within West Africa to educate the public on this issue. It is hard for authorities to find the slaves, as many family farms have their own children working as field hands or legitimately hire boys from the area.

Many farmers do not even think the trafficked children are their slaves, even though they paid for them and beat them every day. Because they genuinely intend to pay them eventually, they think of the boys as indentured at worst – it’s just that they don’t have the money to pay them right now. And some parents don’t believe that old men would ever want to hurt a child. In Mali, parents whose sons have escaped and come home still have trouble accepting the news of what has happened to them.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I propose that we join up with the many never-ending fasts on chocolate made by slaves, just as abolitionists in Britain stopped taking sugar in their tea. 

For now, the only way to know for a fact that our chocolate was not made by child slaves is to buy Fair Trade chocolate, because part of getting Fair Trade certification is proving that no slavery has been used. We can also write to our chocolate companies to demand assurance that they will only work with farmers who do not use slaves.

Most of the child slaves in West Africa do not even know what chocolate is. They know only of the bean, but have never tasted the result. Hopefully one day all of our chocolate will be produced ethically, and these boys will get to learn what it tastes like as they share a bar of it in their schoolrooms.

Join in!

Is it news to you that much of our chocolate is produced by child slaves? It was to me. How does it change your view of chocolate?

And let me know if you decide to join me in the never-ending fast, or if you’ve already been doing so – it’d be fun to have some partners! 

Share any other ideas you have on the topic here!

Further resources:

Read one of the first reports on this subject by the BBC.

Read about this story from the eyes of rescued child slaves in the article “A Taste of Slavery.”

13 Responses to “Chocolate and Child Slavery”
  1. Claire says:

    This was definitely eye opening. I’ve got some research today… I’d like to find some free trade baking chocolate. Otherwise, I can happily say I’m on the fast with you.

    • Joanna says:

      I am with you on the Fair Trade baking chocolate. I’ll look it up today and let you know if I find anything. Do the same if you grab some time! If either of us finds anything promising, I’ll post it tomorrow.

  2. Darrell says:

    Yes, child slavery is terrible, in fact, slavery of any kind is terrible. We should strive for independence in our lives; financial, physical, mental, philosophical,and emotional. What we have here though is actual slavery and yes we should oppose it. Question though, do we oppose the U.S. participation in the UN because its peacekeepers run protection rackets for the slavers? These folks also do it for the sex slavers of children and youngg women especially in Africa but also in the Eastern European Countries. I don’t mean that’s the only place it exists but that is where the UN protects it and participates. Well let’s withdraw from the UN and give it 90 days to get out of town. If you don’t agree perhaps child sex slavery is not so important or perhaps that would be a politically incorrect position. No, I know what it is, you just need proof. well just look for it. Read the daily newspapers from Africa and the Balkin countries also the NYT even reports on this from time to time. Rent the movie “Saviour” with Dennis Quaid and see Hollywood’s version of the Military solution. Anyway slavery is wrong and I have opposed it my whole life symbolically and actually. I could list stories where I witnessed it in the Far East. We don’t take seriously the fact that slavery is all part of the program I am writing about in “Chronicles.” It’s part of a worldwide war againsdt the human race. It’s part of a concerted plan to degrade, demean, depopulate and enslave the human race. The West is enslaved by debt and the rest as you mentioned, all by the same people. I know, I know, this is a blog not a lecture forum, but truth is important. We have to take it seriously and start with the actual cause. Well, till next time.

  3. Connie says:

    This truth that you speak about is very sad. Before i had a chance to read your information, I was speaking to my boss and i told her that i was going to give up chocolate for lent. She told me to read you page. This makes me sick to my stomach to think about these children… IM ALL IN!!!

    • Joanna says:

      This is great. I’m so glad we have a few folks already on board!

      I just visited an amazing resource for us: Slave-Free Chocolate. It has an extensive list of slave-free chocolate companies, including makers of baking chocolate products that are available at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s! And it appears Ben and Jerry’s isn’t completely out, if you buy the organic brand, although organic is only safe because Ivory Coast doesn’t really farm organic chocolate. My preference is to stick with Fair Trade for now – that way I know my money is going to the farming communities to help them establish a life where slavery doesn’t have to be considered so necessary. And I won’t have to keep up with all the latest statistics to make sure my choices are right.

      At the bottom of that site there’s another useful link to a letter campaign meant to question popular chocolate companies’ use of child slavery. But read it carefully! As an example, L.A. Burdick, which I wrote about earlier this week, writes back saying that they only use Ivory Coast chocolate occasionally, and that they have been assured by their farmer in Ivory Coast that they don’t use child slavery. But L.A. Burdick does not say why WE should feel so assured. I say, that doesn’t count! Give me some hard facts! So no more white hot chocolates until there’s complete transparency in their supply chain…

      (And I will put this info up tomorrow as well for the people who don’t follow the comments.)

  4. Evan says:

    With Whole Foods HQ so close, it seems Dahl and I have no excuse for not conceding. Looks like were in 🙂 Bah, ignorance is not bliss…I’m happier knowing the truth on this one for sure. And ignorance helps lead to the problems Darrell’s been informing us about, so I’ll always prefer knowing to not. Thanks!

  5. Sherri says:

    Cocoa Q and A

    QUESTION: So now I understand that the chocolate products in my grocery store may be made from cocoa beans harvested by child slaves in the African country of Ivory Coast. What can I do to stop something that’s happening so far away?

    ANSWER: The first thing many people think of is a boycott; they’d stop buying chocolate. But experts say that probably would be counterproductive, hurting the very people you are trying to help.

    A more effective means of fighting slavery may be the pressure of public opinion. You can write to the companies that make the chocolate products you eat, demanding that they take steps to halt slavery and assure themselves and consumers that they will deal only with farmers who don’t use slaves. You also can write to your members of Congress and to the White House.

    Q: Why not a boycott? The last time I found out something I didn’t like about a product, I just stopped buying it.

    A: Lots of experts say boycotting chocolate could make things worse for the boys working on cocoa farms. People from Anti-Slavery International and UNICEF and cocoa industry analysts say that if lots of people stop buying chocolate, it could drive down the price of cocoa. That means less money for everyone involved in cocoa production, especially the farmers. Farmers who use slaves already say it’s because they don’t make enough to pay the boys. If the farmers make even less money, more boys may work for nothing.

    Q: How can I find out if my favorite brand uses cocoa from Ivory Coast?

    A: Most chocolate manufacturers use some Ivory Coast cocoa because their particular chocolate recipe is a blend of beans from all over the world. Unless the label specifically says it uses only cocoa from some other country, there’s a good chance your chocolate has Ivory Coast cocoa in it.

    If you want to be sure, you can contact the chocolate company. But many of them wouldn’t tell us when we asked them the same question.

    Q: Is there any way to know whether a chocolate made with Ivory Coast cocoa came from a farm with slave labor?

    A: There’s simply no way to tell. Cocoa beans picked by slaves are mixed in with those picked by paid workers. That happens out in the farm regions and at the warehouses in Ivory Coast. So the slave cocoa beans could be in any sack, in any shipment, and wind up in any chocolate bar or fudge brownie mix. The cocoa suppliers say they can’t guarantee that their shipments don’t contain slave cocoa.

    Q: Is anyone doing anything about this?

    A: A few things are starting to happen. Many U.S. chocolate companies say they can do little on their own and are looking for answers from their trade group, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association. When we first started asking CMA officials about the slaves we’d seen in Ivory Coast, they said they were unaware of any evidence of slavery. Since then, the group has acknowledged there might be a problem, and this month it decided to spend at least $1 million for a survey of who is working on Ivory Coast farms. The study, which will be conducted by governments and private groups, will survey 2,000 of Ivory Coast’s cocoa farms, plus 1,000 cocoa farms in neighboring Ghana.

    The trade group also is working with the World Cocoa Foundation, a nonprofit organization it set up to promote cocoa farming, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the agency that delivers U.S. assistance to developing countries, to encourage farmers not to exploit child labor.

    European cocoa companies also have agreed to study the problem. They propose helping the Ivorian government to revamp its agriculture system, to see if farmers can be organized into cooperatives that would monitor working conditions on the farms. That may eliminate the need for middlemen who take a cut of the profit from cocoa sales.

    And in recent months, the Ivorian government has begun sending suspected slaves back to their home countries, particularly Mali and Burkina Faso. The government is working through groups of Malian elders who live in the cocoa region and have been increasingly active in trying to find Malian boys who are enslaved or mistreated. They then alert Ivorian police, who may raid the farms and help send the boys home.

    Q: What about the U.S. government? Is it doing anything?

    A: In 1999, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order prohibiting federal agencies from buying products made using forced or indentured child labor, but cocoa and chocolate are not on the list of banned products. The federal government does buy cocoa products — the Defense Department alone buys tons for the troops.

    The Labor Department is spending $4.3 million on programs to eliminate child labor in West Africa. But it can’t spend any money in Ivory Coast because the U.S. government banned direct help to that country in December 1999 after its democratically elected government was overthrown in a military coup. So the Labor Department is working with the International Labor Organization, a global workers’ rights agency, which in turn works with organizations in Ivory Coast to train people not to exploit children.

    Q: Is cocoa the only crop harvested by slaves in Ivory Coast?

    A: No. Coffee and cotton are, too, according to the State Department’s Human Rights Report. Some cocoa farms grow coffee as well.

    There’s a growing movement in the coffee industry called “fair trade,” in which companies work to be sure their farmers get paid enough for their crops and that provides an incentive for the farmers to pay their workers. The fair trade coffee movement is widespread among Latin American farmers. There’s a very small cocoa fair-trade movement, but it’s mostly confined to European companies that sell chocolate using cocoa that doesn’t come from Ivory Coast. There is no fair-trade American chocolate or cocoa.

    • Joanna says:

      Thank you for including this Q&A. This is from an article that I put in the references. It was written in 2001, only a few months after the news of slavery was picked up by the media.

      It is correct that an outright boycott of all chocolate might be devastating for West Africa. But the article is a little dated – the Fair Trade Movement has picked up a lot of steam around the world. There are now American fair trade certified chocolate companies as well as fair trade co-ops in West Africa. In fact, there is now a growing “Slave Free Certified” movement as well!

      I do not support a full boycott on chocolate. But spending as much $ or more on fairly traded cocoa will not drive the prices down – in fact it will probably make fair trade start looking even more attractive to poor, slave-owning farmers in Ivory Coast who want their own children to have schools and opportunities.

      Also, public pressure is important. But why should Hersey’s change their policy if it will only hurt them? Unless we put correct pressure on them, it is of no benefit for them to ensure transparency.

      It would be like a client asking an attorney to move his firm to a new city. Why would he want to do that? But if that attorney knows it’s the only way to survive, he’ll rent that U-Haul pronto.

  6. Michael says:

    I didn’t know about how common slavery was until all this. I’ll stop buying chocolate made by slaves and I hope every Christian does also.

    If you are reading this ask yourself whether you are truly an abolitionist. Do you hate slavery as God does? Will you do what is necessary to end it?

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] About the Author « Chocolate and Child Slavery […]

  2. […] made by child slaves, I hope you’ll consider doing so by reading about it in our recent chocolate week, along with the comments. And if you’ve given it up, or are trying to, tell us about it in […]

  3. […] have found that, as one commenter has said, ignorance is not bliss. Ever since I gave up eating slave-made cocoa, for example, every bite of slave-free, ethically grown chocolate tastes better, more whole. […]

  4. […] those of you interested in the ongoing slave-free chocolate movement, you might find this story bizarre. But more importantly, reading it might encourage you […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Copyright