Child Slavery: The Bitter Truth behind the Chocolate Industry

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How much money does the chocolate industry make every year?

The global chocolate industry in 2010 made $83.2 billion, $20 billion of this coming from the United States (Markets and Markets nd). Chocolate is also the most popular flavour in the United States, with 52% of adult Americans saying that chocolate was their favourite flavour (World’s Finest Chocolate).

How many cocoa beans does this translate into?

Each year, 600,000 tonnes of cocoa beans are consumed globally (Chocolate of the Month Club nd).

Where do the majority of cocoa beans come from?

72% of cocoa beans come from Ivory Coast and Ghana. Other producers of cocoa beans are Indonesia, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Brazil (Sugar Free Chocolate Factory nd).

Who are some of the largest chocolate producing companies on the global scene? (Not in particular order)

1) Mars Inc. Mars Inc. makes chocolate products such as Snickers, M&M’s, Milky Way bars, Twix and of course, Mars bars. (Sales 2012: $16.8 billion)

2) Nestlé USA: Nestle makes Oh Henry, Wonka, Butterfingers, Baby Ruth’s, and other chocolate bars. Nestlé also makes products other than chocolate such as coffee and water. ((Sales 2012: $12.808 Billion)

3) Ferrero SPA: Ferrero is owned by an Italian family, and makes popular products such as Nutella and Ferrero Rocher. (Sales 2012: $5.627 Billion)

4) The Hershey Company: Commonly known as Hershey’s, this company is the largest manufacturer of chocolate in North America. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, and Cookies and Cream all come from The Hershey Company. (Sales 2012: $6,460 Billion)

5) Cadbury Schweppes Plc: Cadbury Schweppes is the well-known manufacturer that makes Cadbury Dairy Milk bars.

(International Cocoa Organization)

How is the Chocolate Industry connected to Child Slave Labour?

Child labour and child slavery is a prevalent issue in Cote D’Ivoire, the top cocoa producing country in the world. 40% of all cocoa beans come from Cote D’Ivoire, which makes it almost unavoidable for companies such as Mars, Nestle, and Hershey’s to avoid having these beans in their products.

How does cost of cocoa beans and chocolate products contribute to child labour?

The high demand of inexpensive chocolate products in the developed world has led to a competitive market between cocoa farmers, and the low cost of child slavery and labour has led to a high demand for cheap child labourers.

Is there any proof that these major chocolate manufacturers are connected to the child slave trade?

A 2001 survey of chocolate companies in the United States, which includes Hershey’s and Mars, both use “large amounts” of Ivory Coast cocoa beans. As there are 600,000 cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast (Crossing Borders Fair Trade nd), it is not definitive, but very likely, that cocoa products from these companies are harvested by child slave labour. Hershey’s is quoted as saying that it is “shocked” and “concerned” that their chocolate may have been produced through child slavery (John Robbins) Nestle states on its website that child labour has “no place” in their supply chain (Nestlé), yet a report by the BBC in 2012 stated that the Fair Labour Association found multiple violations in the companies “supplier code” (Hawksley 2011).

What other countries are involved with child labour and slavery in the chocolate business?

The Ivory Coast is not alone in the child slavery market. Other countries that have been reported as part of the child labour and slavery trade are:

1) Cameroon
2) Benin
3) Burkina Faso
4) Nigeria
5) Togo (BBC 1999)

How many children are estimated to be “slaves” to cocoa production?

US State Department figures estimate that 10,000 children in the Ivory Coast are victims or slavery or human trafficking. The numbers for children that are subject to “the worst kinds of child labour” reach up to 109,000 (International Labour Rights Forum nd).

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Where are the children working on cocoa farms taken from?

Many of the children working on farms in the Ivory Coast are from villages in that country, but many also come from neighbouring countries such as Mali. An example of this is Sikasso, which is a “junction” for child trafficking in Mali. Children are bussed through Sikasso, to a town called Zegoua, which is near the border with the Ivory Coast. Children are then transported by taxi or motorcycle across the border into the Ivory Coast to plantations (The Dark Side of Chocolate 2010).

Is there a local awareness of the child labour issue in Sikasso?

Many people are aware of child trafficking in Sikasso. The owner of the bus service in Sikasso has records of children that he has saved from the trafficking industry. These children come from Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso (The Dark Side of Chocolate 2010).

In what other ways do children make their way to these farms?

Some children are bought from their families for as little as $30. Sometimes families are too poor to feed their children, or the parents and children are lied to and told that their children will be given an education and work skills. Some children are kidnapped while playing in the street. Traffickers have been known to drive nice cars to lure children with promises of wealth and prosperity (Lamb 2001).

How old are the children on the cocoa farms?

According to the International Labour Rights Forum, 60% of children that are working on cocoa farms are younger than 14 (Griek, Penikett, and Hougee 2010).

What are the conditions like on these farms?

On some of the cocoa farms on the Ivory Coast, Children work 12 hour days or more. Beatings happen on a regular basis, and children are made to climb trees with machetes to harvest the cocoa. Once the cocoa has been knocked from the trees, the children cut open the pods with machetes to remove the cocoa beans. Many of the children have multiple scars on their hands and arms from machetes (Hawksley 2011).

Why don’t children run away from the cocoa plantations?

Many of the children that are close to towns aren’t paid enough to buy a bus ticket away from where they are, and some aren’t paid at all. Many of the cocoa plantations are so rural, it takes 2 hours to drive from a town to the farm. In other cases, some children start “working” at the cocoa farms at such a young age that they don’t know any other way of life (Lamb 2001).

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What are the current laws regarding child labour?

Several international laws govern not only child labour, but the rights of children in general.
1) Article 32 of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all children are protected by “economic exploitation” or any work that is “hazardous” or that may “interfere with their education”. (Goodweave International 2007)

2) The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention of 1992 calls on governments to take immediate action on eliminating child (anyone under 18) labour and child slavery once they have ratified the convention. Ivory Coast has ratified this convention, meaning that it has made this convention part of their domestic law (International Labour Organization 2013).

3) The Minimum Age Convention (ratified by the Ivory Coast) forces countries to create laws that abolish child labour. Children are defined in this context by the Ivory Coast as under the age of 14, and the Convention also states that the minimum age for work that may “jeopardize the health, safety, or morals” of a person is 18 (International Labour Organization 2013) (GoodWeave International 2007)

What are the local laws in the Ivory Coast surrounding Child Labour and Slavery?

International law such as The Convention on the Right of the Child, the Child Labour Convention, and the Minimum Age Convention are all international treaties, and require local government action to be successful. With cocoa being one of the major sources of the economy for the Ivory Coast, international pressure is needed for local authorities to tackle the issue.

Is there any international foundation that been specifically formed to tackle the child labour issue in the cocoa market?

Following the Harkin-Engel Protocol (see below), the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) was formed, which acts to promote and put in place practices to reduce child labour. As of 2011, the ICI has “supported the construction” of 497 classrooms, helped train 391 teachers, and has helped provide 2000 tables to schoolchildren in Ghana. The hope of these projects is to create a better education network that will prevent children from being lured into the cocoa industry (International Cocoa Initiative 2010).

The goal of the ICI from 2011-2015 is to: 1. “Work on evidence-building through research”;
2. Influence projects and policies based on “knowledge-management”; and 3. Continue advocacy in the realm of child labour.

How much money has the chocolate industry spent on reducing child labour in the Ivory Coast?

In the last ten years, the Chocolate industry has spent $75 million on “activities related to” the reduction of child labour (Responsible Cocoa nd). The revenue for the Chocolate Industry in 2010 alone was $83.2 billion.

How successful has the ICI been?

According to an updated report by the Tulane University released in 2011, communities targeted by the ICI to reduce child labour have shown a decrease in children using machetes, spraying pesticides, and carrying heavy loads (15 communities in Ghana, 22 communities in Cote D’Ivoire). Unfortunately, as of the end of 2010, only 13.7% of Ghana, and 2.54% of Ivory Coast cocoa communities had been reached by the ICI(Final Report, page 35). (University of Tulane 2011).

Are there any laws in place that specifically address the issue of the chocolate industry and child labour?

In 2001, a voluntary protocol between American chocolate companies and the American government called the Harkin-Engel Protocol was reached to end “abusive labour practices” and “forced child labour” in the Ivory Coast by 2005. The Harkin-Engel Protocol states that Member companies (Chocolate companies) to the Protocol must “prevent the engagement” of children in child labour, and ensure access to free education. What it does not specify is to what extent the Member companies must succeed in these goals. These goals were not reached in 2005, and were pushed back to 2008. By 2008, these goals had yet again not been met, and were pushed back a second time to 2010 (Responsible Cocoa nd). The current set of goalposts for ending child labour in the cocoa industry is 2020.

Why haven’t any of these protocols been effective in making the chocolate industry combat child slavery?

All of the past and current protocols have been, and are, voluntary. If the chocolate companies do not complete the protocols set out to them, there will be no legal ramifications. Also, these companies bring in large revenues, which may account for the reason that there have not been stricter measures taken against them by the local governments where these companies are based out of.

How is it that Chocolate companies can prevent governments from enacting laws to hold these companies legally responsible for the origin of their chocolate?

Chocolate companies have considerable lobbying influence, and have exerted this power in the past to prevent legislation from being passed that could reduce their sales. For example, in 2001, a piece of law was being passed in the United States that would certify chocolate products as “slave free”. Chocolate companies lobbied to reduce this law to the voluntary protocols mentioned above.(The Dark Side of Chocolate 2010)

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Is there any international foundation that been specifically formed to tackle the child labour issue in the cocoa market?

As mentioned before, the Chocolate Industry has setup the ICI to combat child labour in the cocoa industry, as well as reduce poverty and increase education in these areas. The ICI says that it will continue their community based projects, which include increasing access to “quality education” (International Cocoa Initiative 2010). The actions that the ICI says it will take are important in that they target the societal problems such as poverty and lack of education that underpin the child labour market. What is needed for the ICI to be successful is increased funding from the Chocolate Industry (noted by the Tulane University report). As previously mentioned, the amount of money that the Chocolate industry has donated in a decade doesn’t even amount to 1/1000th of the Chocolate Industries’ revenue in 2010 alone. The ICI is currently in a position to make great strides in reducing child labour in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, but there needs to be policy in place that give minimum limits to the amount of money that the Chocolate Industry has to donate towards these goals. Steps toward progress are being made, but they are not yet big enough to have a proper effect on the present issues.

The Harken-Engel Protocol

The Harken-Engel Protocol (furthermore referred to as the Protocol) is lacking specificity in regards to how drastically child labour should be reduced by the target goal of 2020. The Protocol needs to have specific benchmarks that can be used as markers of success for the Chocolate Industry. The Protocol should also specify to what extent the Chocolate Industry should finance the ICI towards the reduction/elimination of Child Labour. Most importantly, the Harken-Engel Protocol is voluntary, and therefore does not have legal ramifications to the Chocolate companies that signed it if they do not complete their goals. The Protocol should be made legally binding, with provisions that stipulate the legal penalties possible if the Chocolate Industry does not meet the goals that have been agreed on.

Responsibility for the origin of products:

Chocolate companies state that it is difficult to be sure where cocoa beans originate from, and therefore hard to know whether or not child labour was involved. Policy that mandates a chocolate manufacturer know where their cocoa beans originate from would place responsibility into the hands of these companies. This policy, combined with the current ICI tactic of independent evaluation of cocoa farms would help ensure that the path of a shipment of cocoa beans would be relatively traceable to its origin. This combination would give the public more confidence that the product it was consuming was produced with or without child labour.

Independent 3rd party investigator

Nestle has partnered with the Fair Labour organization to asses Nestles cocoa supply chain in the Ivory Coast, and provide recommendations to Nestle on how to mitigate risk to workers (Fair Labour Association, 2012). This is an important beginning to the resolution of the problem, but only a first step. All the major corporations that are part of the Chocolate Industry should be a part of this initiative, to increase the supervision and assessment of the Chocolate Industry. These assessments should also happen on a regular basis, so that the above-mentioned responsibility for the origin of products could be maintained.

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The driving force that has led to the current changes in the Chocolate Industry regarding has been public awareness and public opinion. The original news pieces in 2001 that led to the Harkin-Engel Protocol generated enough public anger and discontent to drive political action at the federal level. To achieve the policies and policy changes above, the same, if not greater level of public conversation and pressure is needed. There are several ways to publicize this issue, as well as pressure the Chocolate Industry and politicians to take further, and more aggressive action on child labour in cocoa farms.

Holiday-Centered Boycotts:

Chocolate is a treat that is enjoyed year round, but in large amounts during holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Halloween. Halloween is the most chocolate-centered holiday in North America, with 90 million pounds of chocolate candy being sold in the week leading up to Halloween. Campaigns to boycott or reduce the amount of chocolate bought on these holidays would attract the attention of chocolate companies, and prompt a public conversation regarding the issue.

Social Media:

Networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter are incredibly simple ways of spreading an idea or a concept. Tweeting about the number of child slaves in the cocoa trade or sharing a documentary on your Facebook account can lead to a flood of social media attention on the subject of child labour in the Ivory Coast. The prevalence of social media has grown to the point that news channels and politicians pay close attention to these trends. Using Facebook to begin public conversation on an idea, and moving to main news channels if available is a powerful method of spreading a message to the public. Pressuring federal governments to adopt the above policies, as well as having chocolate companies accept them is very possible if Facebook and Twitter were used.

Online Petitions:

Combining the power of successful petitions with the power of Social Media to spread a message can quickly generate a powerful statement to sitting governments and members of the chocolate industry. The combined effect of having large numbers of signatures on a petition with a broad range of people from different parts of a country or continent speaks volumes to heads of companies.

Mainstream Media:

If an event surrounding the issue of child labour in cocoa farms is very successful, or a picture regarding child labour rights and chocolate is re-Tweeted three thousand times, it attracts the attention of large media outlets. Having a large broadcasting network or news channel such as the CBC highlighting the issue further compounds the public awareness in the subject.

A combination of these different tactics is the most effective in bringing public awareness towards the issue of child slavery in the Chocolate Industry. Public condemnation through multiple forms of media can galvanize political action, and lead to policy implementation. The daily luxury of chocolate may seem to be a “guilty pleasure” to many members of society, but most do not know exactly how accurate the word “guilty” is. Widespread knowledge is needed to begin the process of holding The Chocolate Industry, and the chocolate consumer, responsible.

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Association, Fair Labour. “Assessment of Nestle Cocoa Supply Chain in Ivory Coast | Fair Labor Association.” Fair Labor Association. link (accessed October 5, 2013).

BBC News. ” BBC News | AFRICA | West Africa’s child slave trade.” BBC News – Home. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

GoodWeave International. “Child Labor Laws | GoodWeave International.” GoodWeave International. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

World’s Finest Chocolate. “Chocolate Facts.” World’s Finest Chocolate. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

Crossing Borders Fair Trade. “Chocolate Slavery.” Crossing Borders Fair Trade. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

ICI Cocoa. “Community-driven Action.” ICI Cocoa. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

Industry, the international cocoa/chocolate, and University of Tulane. “Oversight of Public and Private Initiatives to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.” Oversight of Public and Private Initiatives to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. link (accessed October 5, 2013)

Monthly Clubs. “Facts about Chocolate – Chocolate Trivia | Chocolate of the Month Cub.” Gourmet Chocolate of the Month Club – Chocolate Club. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

Griek, Lotte, Jennifer Penikett, and Esther Hougee. “Sustainalytics | Leading-edge ESG research and responsible investment analysis.” Sustainalytics | Leading-edge ESG research and responsible investment analysis. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

Hawksley, Humphrey. “BBC News – Ivory Coast cocoa farms child labour: Little change.” BBC – Homepage. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

Hawksley, Humphrey. “BBC News – Nestle ‘failing’ on child labour abuse, says FLA report.” BBC – Homepage. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

John Robbins. “Is There Slavery In Your Chocolate? | John Robbins Official Site.” John Robbins Official Site. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

Lamb, Christina . “The child slaves of the Ivory Coast – bought and sold for as little as £40 – Telegraph.” – Telegraph online, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

Markets and Markets. “MarketsandMarkets: Global Chocolate Market worth $ 98.3 billion by 2016.” Market Research Reports – Custom Research and Industry Analysis: MarketsandMarkets. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

International Labor Rights Forum. “Raise the Bar Coalition to Hershey and Cadbury: Get Child Slave Labor Out Of Our Easter Baskets | International Labor Rights Forum.” International Labor Rights Forum. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

International Labour Organization. “Ratifications of C138 – Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138).” International Labour Organization. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

International Labour Organization. “Ratifications of C182 – Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182).” International Labour Organization. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

Nestlé Global. “Tackling child labour | Nestlé Global.” Home | Nestlé Global. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

Dean Marshall Consultancy Ltd.. “The Chocolate Industry.” The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) | Cocoa Producing and Cocoa Consuming Countries. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

Responsible Cocoa. “The Harkin-Engel Protocol | Responsible Cocoa.” Responsible Cocoa. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

The dark side of chocolate. Film. Directed by Miki Mistrati. Hamilton, NJ: Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 2010.

Sugar Free Chocolate Factory. “Where did Cacao Beans come from? – Cacao Beans and Chocolate.” Sugar Free Chocolate Factory. link (accessed March 21, 2013).

Related Topics


Mitchell is a 3rd year Integrated Sciences undergraduate at UBC, interested in genetics and the Nervous System. He also is interested in international affairs and politics, hence his choice in researching the cocoa industry.

31 Responses to “Child Slavery: The Bitter Truth behind the Chocolate Industry”

  1. C.R.E.E.R Africa

    Great report; however there are many factors in child slavery & trafficking and cocoa is just one of them in W.Africa & Cote d’Ivoire.

    Secondly, although ICI etc are trying to make a difference with schools etc, these will be used primarily by the children of the planters; not necessarily by the trafficked children. The planters are so afraid of being caught with trafficked children that we suspect they probably won’t send the trafficked children to school.

    Having spent a lot of time with planters, talking to them about the situation, we know that they are at the end of a long chain of the chocolate process. They cannot afford a chocolate bar themselves, they’ve never tasted chocolate (as we witnessed when CNN was in Cote d’Ivoire last month)

    There isn’t any shelter for the children that have been trafficked, many who escape end up on the streets, hence CREER aims to start building early 2014

  2. Kate Koester

    Thank you for your informative article! I have posted it to the Fair Trade Gelt Campaign facebook page.

    We are galvanizing energy in the Jewish community to end child slavery in the chocolate industry. We think that Chanukah — a time of year when many Jewish children are celebrating with chocolate gelt — is an ideal time to link this fair trade chocolate campaign with the theme of freedom.

    Please keep up with our campaign by “liking” our Facebook page –

    Happy Chanukah,
    Kate Koester
    Happy Chanukah!

  3. Chocolate – Teñido de sangre y trafico infantil | La Plata Consciente

    […] “El trabajo infantil y la esclavitud infantil es un problema frecuente en Costa de Marfil. De la producción total, el 40% de todos los granos de cacao procede de Costa de Marfil, lo que hace que sea casi inevitable para las empresas como Mars, Nestlé y Hershey tener estos granos en sus productos”, señala un informe del proyecto Terry. […]

  4. Bon Qui Qui

    My children were used to make chocolate and it was a disgrace to see them work at that young age. I hate the people who did this and cursed be them!

    I have a child that just started working at this industry. She was taken away from me and I’ve been mourning for weeks. I hope this stops.

  5. Peter

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  6. Kaitlyn

    I think that team using slaves to help make chocolate is just wrong and what they put in chocolate is gross

  7. Sandra Olsen, M.Ed.

    I found out this was going on and called and demanded proof from the biggest chocolate companies on the U.S., including Hershey, et all; all admitted to having farms on the Ivory Coast, but said and wrote letters that their farmers did not use children! And that there were sanctions in place to prevent child trafficking! It is pure nonsense and they are lying! Just watch the documentary by Where they actually go to the farms and find the children!
    I used to love chocolate, but after watching beaten children, abducted, stolen and put to work on cocoa farms; I’m nauseated! And I intend to call and write all the big chocolate companies and tell them I’m banning their products! And the international companies as well!
    Sandra Olsen, M.Ed.
    Modern Day Abolitionist
    Children’s advocate

  8. Lauren Kee

    My name is Lauren Kee and I am very interested in your article. I am doing a presentation on the slavery that goes on in the chocolate business and I was hoping I could interview you for this. I want to present your input and others in this presentation as you are a part of the movement to stop this oppression and denial of human rites. Please get back to me with your thoughts. Thank you.

  9. Kira Bondi

    My name is Kira Bondi and I am doing a speech about fairtrade chocolate. I have a few questions about your products that would be really helpful to my reasearch. First of all I was wondering how companies can be certain that their chocolate is fairtrade? I know that many companies claim that the are yet they do not have the faitrade logo on their products. Secondly I was wondering what the difference in price is between chocolate that is fairtrade and chocolate that is not? Third and finally, I would like to know if large chocolate companies such as Nestlé and Cadbury are doing anything to help remedy the situation in the third world countries.

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  11. fuchsia

    Such an interesting helpful article, very interesting, and also quite sad, you just dont realize what goes on to make the chocolate you eat… All this info is very helpful!!! Thanks so much..


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