What to Do About Child Labor and Enslavement in the Chocolate Industry

Enjoy Guilt-Free Fair Trade and Direct Trade Chocolate

Chocolate candy is often produced by child and slave labor. Choose fair trade or direct chocolate to be a part of the solution.
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Do you know where your chocolate comes from, or what happens in order to get it to you? Green America, a non-profit ethical consumption advocacy organization, points out in this infographic that although major chocolate corporations rake in tens of billions of dollars annually, cocoa farmers earn just pennies per pound. In many cases, our chocolate is produced using child and enslaved labor.

We in the U.S. chomp down twenty-one percent of the global chocolate supply every year, so it makes sense that we should be informed about the industry that brings it to us. Let's take a look at where all that chocolate comes from, the problems in the industry, and what we as consumers can do to keep child labor and enslavement out of our sweets.

Where Chocolate Comes From

Most of the world's chocolate begins as cocoa pods grown in Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Indonesia, but much is also grown in Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Peru. Around the world, there are 14 million rural farmers and laborers who rely on cocoa farming for their income. Many of them are migrant workers, and nearly half are small farmers. An estimated 14 percent of them—nearly 2 million—are West African children.

Earnings and Labor Conditions

The farmers who cultivate cocoa pods earn less than 76 cents per pound, and because of the inadequate compensation, they must rely on low-wage and unpaid labor to produce, harvest, process, and sell their crops. Most cocoa farming families live in poverty because of this. They have inadequate access to schooling, healthcare, clean and safe drinking water, and many suffer from hunger. In West Africa, where much of the world's cocoa is produced, some farmers rely on child labor and even enslaved children, many of whom are sold into bondage by traffickers who take them from their home countries. (For more details on this tragic situation, see these stories on BBC and CNN, and this list of academic sources).

Massive Corporate Profits 

On the flip side, the world's largest global chocolate companies are raking in tens of billion dollars annually, and total pay for the CEOs of these companies ranges from 9.7 to 14 million dollars.

Fairtrade International puts the farmers' and corporations' earnings in perspective, pointing out that producers in West Africa

are likely to receive between 3.5 to 6.4 percent of the final value of a chocolate bar containing their cocoa. This figure is down from 16 percent in the late 1980s. Over the same time period, manufacturers have increased their take from 56 to 70 percent of the value of a chocolate bar. Retailers currently see about 17 percent (up from 12 percent over the same time period).

So over time, though demand for cocoa has risen annually, and has been rising at a greater rate in recent years, producers take home a decreasing percentage of the value of the final product. This happens because chocolate companies and traders have consolidated in recent years, which means that there are just a handful of very large, monetarily and politically powerful buyers in the global cocoa market. This puts pressure on producers to accept unsustainably low prices in order to sell their product, and thus, to rely on low-wage, child, and enslaved labor.

Why Fair Trade Matters

For these reasons, Green America urges consumers to purchase fair or direct trade chocolate this Halloween. Fair trade certification stabilizes the price paid to producers, which fluctuates as it is traded on commodities markets in New York and London, and guarantees a minimum price per pound that is always higher than the unsustainable market price. In addition, corporate buyers of fair trade cocoa pay a premium, on top of that price, that producers can use for development of their farms and communities. Between 2013 and 2014, this premium poured more than $11 million into producing communities, according to Fair Trade International. Importantly, the fair trade certification system guards against child labor and enslavement by regularly auditing participating farms.

Direct Trade Can Help Too

Even better than fair trade, in a financial sense, is the direct trade model, which took off in the specialty coffee sector several years ago, and has made its way to the cocoa sector. Direct trade puts more money into producers' pockets and communities by cutting the middlemen out of the supply chain, and by often paying far more than the fair trade price. (A quick web search will reveal direct trade chocolate companies in your area, and those from which you can order online.)

The most radical step way from the ills of global capitalism and toward justice for farmers and workers was taken when the late Mott Green founded the Grenada Chocolate Company Cooperative on the Caribbean island in 1999. Sociologist Kum-Kum Bhavnani profiled the company in her award-winning documentary about labor issues in the global cocoa trade and demonstrated how companies like Grenada offer a solution to them. The worker-owned cooperative, which produces chocolate in its solar-powered factory, sources all of its cocoa from the inhabitants of the island for a fair and sustainable price, and returns profits equally to all worker-owners. It is also a forerunner of environmental sustainability in the chocolate industry.

Chocolate is a source of joy for those who consume it. There's no reason that it can't also be a source of joy, stability, and economic security for those who produce it.