Chocolate Truly is, Not So Sweet


Chocolate Truly is Not So Sweet

Society’s idea of chocolate is simply one of a mouthwatering delectable treat. The delightful confection brings smiles to children on Easter and Christmas, shows loved ones how much they care on Valentine’s Day, and can prompt ugly moods into cheerful days. As a top rated and economic giant industry, those in the business of making and selling chocolate have created a culture of indulgence, justifying such with studies that purport chocolate is healthy, mood altering, and good for an overall well-being. The dark side to this industry; however, is fraught with child/slave labor, damage to the world’s environment, and an underlying use of products for production that are actually harmful to society’s health. One such company is the ever famous Hersey Company.

The history of the Hershey Company began in 1894 with Milton S. Hersey’s fist small confection shop located in Philadelphia, PA. After several failed attempts and company changes, he created a milk-processing plant in order to create a recipe for milk chocolate candy items and in 1900 he manufactured what is known worldwide as the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar. The main ingredient of this product of course was cocoa which had to be imported from overseas. With the advancing years, Hershey also produced several new chocolate well known products such as Hershey kisses, Hershey syrup, Mr. Goodbars, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Over the years, as society became more aware and involved in unethical behaviors from organized businesses, Hershey was researched and studied for their unethical practices and manufacturing of cocoa purchases. Because the chocolate industry receives most of their cocoa products from the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Ghana, the regulations for growth of the cocoa bean are more lax than anywhere else. In order to make chocolate in the quantity a large company like Hershey needs, there are a vast amount of necessary beans needed. This produces trade agreements between Africa and the U.S. which over the years has seen a high propensity for unethical behaviors. These behaviors are inclusive to using dangerous and health hazardous pesticides and chemicals in order to grow higher volume of cocoa crops to unfair and illegal practices in child slavery and labor.

Pesticide and Chemical Use in Cocoa Plants

Cocoa crops are trees which produce pods offering the cocoa beans needed to make chocolate. These trees need altitudes between 100 and 1,000 feet above sea level (Hirsch, Balser, and Morton 159). With the delicacy of the tree’s attributes, cocoa crops are precarious and can quickly be damaged by insects, fungi, and even sun. Often the crops are intermixed with banana and rubber trees for protection. Because west coast of Africa, Brazil, and Malaysia provide just the right environment and climate to successfully plant and harvest cocoa beans, these locations are the number one places in the world to find large cocoa bean crops.

Once Hershey established a relationship in the early part of the 20th century with several large cocoa plantations in West Africa, the company began to procure enormous amounts of the product for shipment across seas to the American factories. In order to procure the massive amounts of cocoa beans needed to be profitable in the creation of their candies, Hershey allowed the plantation farmers to use specific chemicals during the fermentation and drying process of the harvested cocoa beans. One such chemical, Ochratoxin A has been found to have potential carcinogenic damages to society including producing carcinoma and renal adenomas that are extremely quick to develop (Dano, Manda, Dembele, Abla, Bibaud, Gouet, and Sika 2311). Sample studies of cocoa pods and beans collected from the Ivory Coast showed a high concentration of Ochratoxin A which was a collaborative ingredient in the fermentation process chemicals used during a study done by experts in the field (Dano, Manda, Dembele, Abla, Bibaud, Gouet, and Sika 2319). The resulting conclusion was that those chemicals used for the proliferation of the cocoa crop were inset and have a high propensity to damage the health of those who consumed any product made from the cocoa.

A second damaging chemical that is inexpensive and readily available in many parts of Africa is the pesticide Dieldrin used for elimination of insects, pests, and fungus attributed to a cocoa crop. Plantations use Dieldrin at a 0.25% concentration sprayed directly onto the trees. While this product is effective at keeping pests and such at bay, the chemical compounds found to make up Dieldrin have intensive properties of oraganochlorides and lindane which both have the potential for extreme damage to a body’s organs if ingested (Asogwa and Dongo 679). Furthermore the traces of lindane and menthyl bormide which are found in so many pesticides used to maintain cocoa crops have been proven to lead to respiratory, neurological, and reproductive complications.

The regulations of such chemical and pesticide inclusion comes primarily from the EPA and the FDA. Both agencies are responsible to monitor those products imported into the U.S. that have the propensity to be contaminated with harmful chemical content. Yet both agencies also allow tolerances that are simply too high for consumption. The chart below show the U.S. tolerances allowed for cocoa bean importation.

Cacao Carfentrazone-ethyl 0.1 ppm
Cacao bean & roasted bean Chlorantranillprole 0.08 ppm
Cacao bean  Glyphosate 0.2 ppm
Cacao bean  Paraquat 0.05
Cacao bean, chocolate & cocoa powder Chlorantranillprole 1.5 ppm
Cacao bean , dried Pyriproxyfen 0.02 ppm
Cacao bean , dried Oxyfluorfen 0.05
Cacao bean , dried Phosphine 0.1 ppm
Cacao bean, roasted bean, postharvest Cryolite (Fluorine compounds) 20 ppm
Cacao bean, roasted bean, postharvest Inorganic bromide residues resulting from fumigation with methyl bromide 50 ppm
Cacao bean, roasted bean, postharvest Pyrthrins 1 ppm
Cacao bean, roasted bean, postharvest Sulfuryl fluoride 0.2 ppm
Cacao bean, roasted bean, postharvest Piperonyl butoxide 8 ppm
Cacao bean, dried bean & cocoa powder Propylen oxide 200 ppm
Cacoa bean, dried Chlorothanlonil 0.05 ppm

(Boder 3)

This chart indicates that those chemical compounds found in cocoa products imported into the U.S. have a high ppm of tainted products from those stated chemicals. While the overall limitations for allowable chemicals in food products is determined and regulated based upon scientific evidence, there is no overall conclusive data that shows even limited amounts of such chemicals will have no lasting harmful effects upon the public’s consumption of such items as chocolate. Since, “[h]istorically, pesticides in cocoa have not been a major focus of U.S. regulators,” (Boder 27) the Hershey Company, who possibly recognizes the damaging effects such contaminations can have, continues to allow such chemicals to be used for increased production of cocoa crops.

Child Labor/Slavery & Unfair Practices

While the concern for chemical use in the cocoa which is used for the production of chocolate, a more disconcerting issue which The Hershey Company seems to ignore, is the accusations and implications of their practices in using child labor and/or slavery for the manufacturing of their products.

An undercover investigative report in 2010 turned documentary film called, The Dark Side of Chocolate – Child Slavery was made public. The film, directed by Danish journalist Miki Mistrati, was recorded in secret. Beginning with a scene setting of Cologne, Germany, the report asks several representatives of chocolate companies if they are aware of child trafficking occurring on those plantations which produce their cocoa for manufacturing their chocolate products. All interviewed said either no they were not aware or claimed to have no knowledge of such practices.

To view film:

For embedded film:



Mistrati shows footage shot secretly of several traffickers and plantation workers. When one plantation owner was questioned regarding the children working for him, he stated the cost for a child to labor on his plantation runs around 230 Euros, but in reality, the child for the most part never sees any money. Children are often kidnapped from the market or even from their villages. Sometimes parents will sell their children into slavery when they have no means to support them.

In attempt to stop child trafficking and slavery, the 1989 Convention of Right of the Child was ratified in 1992 by the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention. This convention created specific policy for the government’s responsibility in taking action immediately for the elimination of child labor and slavery. It was not adhered to, so activists joined together and the U.S. government created the Harkin-Engel protocol in 2005. This protocol calls for the imposition of a labeling system to be placed on retail chocolate showing where the cocoa came from for the creation of the confection. This would enable proof to show the ingredients did not come from unethical sources. However, many chocolate companies, including The Hershey Company bribed the terms of this protocol down and made such a delay that this will not be legal or enforceable until the year 2020 (Zienchuk n.p.).

In September of 2015, activist Laura Dana filed a legal suit against The Hershey Company for violation of California consumer protection laws. Dana claimed that Hershey failed to “disclose the use of child and slave labor in their supply chains to consumers, they are deceived into buying products they would not have otherwise and thereby unwittingly supporting child and slave labor themselves through their product purchases” (United States District Court Northern District of California, Case No. 3:15-cv-04453 6). The case which has been provided a continuance is based upon Dana’s research that The Hershey Company does in fact know that slave labor is used to procure the cocoa beans which are purchased from several Ivory Coast plantations and Hershey fails to disclose such knowledge. Hershey’s attorneys relayed that this is a misconception; they have no knowledge of such and are fully within the laws and policies set in place when purchasing cocoa from overseas.

Yet for the past two decades, criticism has been made public against the fact that Hershey does not have any programs implemented in order to sustain the ethical practices of cocoa purchasing.

Hershey has no policies in place to purchase cocoa that has been produced without the use of labor exploitation, and the company has consistently refused to provide public information about its cocoa sources. Additionally, Hershey has made no move to shift to third-party certification for the cocoa that it sources from West Africa. No information is available from Hershey about how the money it has invested in various programs in West Africa has actually impacted reductions in forced, trafficked, and child labor among the suppliers of its cocoa. Finally, Hershey’s efforts to further cut costs in its cocoa production has led to a reduction in good jobs in the United States (Nerenberg 26).

The fact that Hersey ignores those rules and regulations set in place for the protection of children forced into slavery and labor has caused a campaign against the famous chocolate company. The “Raise the Bar, Hersey” campaign launched by a group known as Green America / Global Exchange in September 2010 proposes that Hershey wakes up and takes responsibility and immediate action to eliminate this travesty against Africa and Brazil’s children. This campaign produced many heart wrenching and hard hitting campaign advertisement like the two below in order to educate society on who really suffered in the making of their delightful candy.


(Both images contributed from the Global Exchange Fair Trade Blog)

In search of answers regarding Hershey and other chocolatiers disregard for the policies set in place to protect children from the slave labor on cocoa plantations, Fortune Magazine’s assistant manager Brian O’Keefe went to West Africa to investigate. Producing a short film called, Bitter Sweets, O’Keefe discusses how companies like Hershey’s is at the top of the supply chain and that the chocolate companies have plausible deniability because they are so far removed from the actual producers of the cocoa beans. With the thousands of farms and plantations in producing cocoa beans, there are several middle men in the process including the government that may constitute a breakdown in the knowledge the chocolate company has. In fact O’Keefe even states that it is very possible that the companies have no idea which plantation the cocoa beans are even coming from. On top of this, O’Keefe believes many chocolate companies, including Hershey are getting actively involved and have more ownership of their supply chains. “The overall demand for chocolate is going up and the chocolate companies are worried that if they do not make the cocoa plantations more productive, healthier, and more sustainable, their product may dry up” (Bitter Sweet).


While O’Keefe is not defending companies like Hershey for the promotion of child labor, he does understand and relays issues that the companies along with those residents who work on cocoa plantations face. Because of the extreme poverty in these countries, often parents rely on their children to bring in extra income to simply survive. The most prolific method is to have their children work on such plantations. This is beyond the control of the chocolate companies.

However, there are those who feel that the chocolate industry and its companies should be more aware, especially now that so much publicity has become prevalent, in who is working on the plantations that bring in their products for manufacturing. If the overall necessity for more cocoa beans is causing the industry to not protect its children from the atrocities of being enslaved for the meager dollar, then perhaps those who eat chocolate need to reevaluate the need to purchase and eat the confection.

While there is substantial proof that Hershey has not shifted to third-party certification which would provide the necessary sources to establish where its cocoa comes from, the larger issue at hand is the fact that The Hershey Company continues to offer charitable donations to children and programs in both the U.S. and West Africa which is simply a type of greenwashing in order to look as if they are taking social responsibility. However, their continued failure to use damaging chemicals with no public remedy, and their obstinacy when it comes to embracing the Fair Trade certification which would certify they meet the legal labor, social, and environmental standards simply shows the irresponsibility to the world in their desire for the large profits accrued.  The end solution for the public: awareness, education, and the refusal to buy any Hershey products. This end result will either wake the company up to provide the proper behavior or will close the company’s door down for good. Either way, society would be saved from neglected actions from one of the foremost chocolate companies in the world.

Works Cited

Asogwa, E.U. and Dongo, L.N. “Problems Associated with Pesticide Usage and Application in

Nigerian Cocoa Production.” African Journal of Agricultural Research 6.8 (2009): 675-

  1. Print.

Bodor, Alison. “Pesticide Regulations in the U.S. for Cocoa.” National Confectioners

            Association’s Chocolate Council. 2015. Web. 1 May 2016.

Dano, Sebastien Djedje, Manda, Pierre, Dembele, Ardjourma, Abla, Ange Marie-Joseph

Kouassi, Bibaud, Joel Henri, Gouet, Julien Zroh, Sika, Charles Bruno Ze Maria.

“Influence of Fermentation and Drying Materials on the Contamination of Cocoa Beans

by Ochratoxin A.” Toxins (Basel) 5.12 (2013): 2310-2323. Print.

The Dark Side of Chocolate. Dir. Miki Mistrati and U. Roberto Romano. Prod. Helle Faber

Denmark. 2010. Film.

Hagens, Berman, Sobol, and Shapiro, LLP. Class Action: Complaint for Violation of California

            Consumer Protection Laws. (Case No. 3:15-cv-04453). 26 September 2015.  Pasadena,

CA: United States District Court Northern District of California. Print.

Hirsch, Sylvia Balser and Morton Gill Clark. A Salute to Chocolate. Hawthorn Books, 1968.


Nerenberg, Jenara. “Hershey Gets a Not-So-Sweet Kiss for Fair Trade Month.” Global

            Exchange/Green America. 2010 September. Web. 1 May 2016.

O’Keefe, Brian. “Bitter Sweets.” Fortune Magazine. Online Video Clip. 2016. Web. 1 May


Patriana, Zarah. “Time to Raise the Bar in the Cocoa Industry.” Fair Trade Blog. Global

Exchange. 9 November 2010. Web. 1 May 2016.


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