As far as chocolate goes, companies don’t get much bigger than Mars, Nestlé and Hershey, which make up three of the top six chocolate producing operations in the world.
But while these companies provide plenty of smiles to those who enjoy their products both in the United States and across the world, there’s a troublesome, underreported side effect about their products that most grocery store shoppers would be shocked to learn.
Twenty years ago, these powerhouse companies pledged to eradicate what has become the biggest and most serious complaint against them: the use of the child labor in the sourcing of their cocoa ingredients in West Africa, where a system said to be closely mirroring slavery has arisen for the harvesting of these raw materials.
Now, a blockbuster report in the The Washington Post is exposing these companies’ consistent failure to act, a clear pattern that has left most of the American chocolate industry dependent on the backs of millions of child laborers who are being exploited for personal gain.
Mars, Nestlé and Hershey Continually Fail to Avoid Child Labor Responsibilities
Mars, Nestlé and Hershey sold a combined $34.3 billion worth of chocolate in 2018 according to the International Cocoa Organization, but a large portion of these their products still rely on child labor.
That was the key finding of the Post report, which exposed a series of failures by these three companies to aggressively research, target and “eradicate” the problem as promised.
The three popular chocolate companies have continually let down their customers, and most importantly those suffering in Africa, by failing to adequately address the problem.
The quest to end “the worst forms of child labor” from West African cocoa suppliers began after an agreement was signed by some of the biggest chocolate companies in 2001 under pressure from the U.S. Congress. It was supposed to be completed in four years, the Post said.
Critics say these companies are merely attempting to make it look like they’re taking meaningful action while the problem continues to fester, however.
Mars, Nestlé and Hershey have all “missed deadlines to uproot child labor from their cocoa supply chains in 2005, 2008 and 2010,” the report said.
Next year, yet another target date is also expected to be missed.
And the problem stretches far beyond children: according to Fairtrade International, which works to certify cacao farms and other farming operations overseas, the average income of a cocoa farmer in the Ivory Coast where much of this cocoa is harvested is just 78 cents per day, less than one-third of the $2.51 per day total generally regarded as necessary for a living income in the region.
“We haven’t eradicated child labor because no one has been forced to,” said Antoine Fountain, managing director of the Voice Network, a group seeking to end child labor in the cocoa industry, to the Post.
Nestlé and other companies have not been held accountable for their misdeeds, he added.
“What has been the consequence…for not meeting the goals? How many fines did they face? How many prison sentences? None. There has been zero consequence.”
For more information, including the companies’ plans to combat the child labor issue in the future (who knows if they’ll actually follow through this time), read the full report from the Post here.
More Than Two Million Child Laborers Still Used to Make Mainstream Chocolate
A 2015 U.S. Labor Department report found that more than two million children were engaged in “dangerous” labor in West Africa, where Mars, Nestlé and Hershey source much of their cocoa.
Enticed by gifts or one-time offers of cash from farm owners seeking dirt-cheap or unpaid labor in countries like the Ivory Coast where large cacao farms reside, thousands of children leave their families to begin working.
Local farm owners continue to profit off of this child labor, while exposing kids to jobs normally fit for adults as well as harmful pesticides and other safety hazards.
Many of these children are as young as ten years old.
The chocolate industry completes an estimated $103 billion in sales annually, and has spent more than $150 million over 18 years in attempts to address the issue.
It’s clearly not working.
“The companies have always done just enough so that if there were any media attention, they could say, ‘Hey guys, this is what we’re doing,’” Fountain said.
“It’s always been too little, too late. It still is.”
How to Find Chocolate Not Sourced from Child Labor
In October 2018, the Green America organization released a scorecard of 13 different chocolate bars, ranking them based on ethical sourcing, quality organic and non-GMO ingredients, whether or not they have plans in place to better support indigenous farmers in Africa, and more.
The top six highest scorers on the list for ethically sourced chocolate made from organic and natural ingredients are as follows:
A personal favorite of mine is Sacred Chocolate as well, which uses ethically traded whole bean cacao from Ecuador.
It should also be noted that Mars and Nestlé both received a C+ score from Green America, while Hershey got a C- grade.
Godiva, the gourmet chocolatier known for its high-priced bars and boxes, received a failing grade for its use of chocolate made from child labor.
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