While chocolate is a sweet delicacy enjoyed by millions around the world, the underlying forces of cacao production often leave a sour taste in consumers’ mouths. After Europeans “discovered” chocolate in Mesoamerica, its dissemination in Europe relied on the forced labor of indigenous populations and later African slaves on cacao plantations. Slavery was abolished on paper in England in 1833. Yet, it persisted under new names from serviçal in Sao Tome e Principe to “worst forms of child labor” in Côte d’Ivoire. I will compare the response of two influential companies in the cocoa industry–Cadbury and Nestlé–when faced with evidence of forced labor in their cacao supply chain. While both companies’ actions are ultimately profit-driven, Cadbury took more legitimate actions to divest from forced labor than Nestlé, as the latter has yet to fully invest in ethically-sourced cacao.
William Cadbury’s awareness of forced labor in cacao plantations started with rumors of horrible work conditions in Sao Tome and Príncipe in 1901. At the time, Cadbury obtained 55% of its cacao from the area (Higgs 2012:9). He met with Portuguese authorities who assured him that new labour legislation addressed concerns of minimum wage (Satre 2005:23). Still, Cadbury commissioned Joseph Burtt in 1905 to investigate the work conditions in Sao Tome e Principe. Prior to Burtt’s return, Henry Nevinson published his investigative journalism in Harper’s Magazine in 1905.
Nevinson shed light on the forced labor of indentured servants (serviçal) in Sao Tome e Principe (Martin 2017). It was indistinguishable from slavery. Burtt returns in 1907, and his report supports Nevinson’s research. Yet, British authorities request Burtt revise his findings to assuage Portuguese authorities because Portuguese authorities were instrumental to British colonial interests in South Africa (Satre 2005: 76, 24). Up to then, Cadbury’s actions were behind the public eye. While the company researched forced labor and attempted to negotiate with both British and Portuguese authorities with no divestment in sight, their consumers continued purchasing their “guaranteed pure and soluble” cacao.
Nevinson persevered with his reporting and published “The Angola Slave Trade” in The Fornightly Review, which garnered a lot of publicity. Forced labor alarmed British consumers because although England had abolished slavery in 1833, they were still complicit to it. Slavery did not align itself with the Quaker values of the time. As consumers started demanding Cadbury take action, Cadbury takes a final trip to Sao Tome and Principe.
Upon his return, he convinces J.S. Fry and Rowntree, other British chocolatemakers to join him as Cadbury boycotts cacao production in Sao Tome and Principe. Presumably, Cadbury divests because of the continuous failed promises by the Portuguese government to ameliorate working conditions in both islands. While the Portuguese government was not intent on ending slavery in cacao production, Cadbury did not suddenly reach enlightenment in 1909. At the time of initial evidence of slavery in Sao Tome and Principe, Cadbury had no other sustainable source of cacao if it wanted to maintain its leading status amongst British consumers. A viable option was needed as the British confectionners turned to mainland West Africa. Hence, the boycott from its main source of cacao did not hurt Cadbury because during his backdoor negotiations with various stakeholders, cacao trees were being planted in the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana). From his visit to the Gold Coast in 1906 to the official boycott from Sao Tome’s cacao in 1909, cocoa harvest in the Gold Coast increased from 9004 to 20,534 metric tons (Grant 2005: 175). Therefore, in addition to being ethically sound, the move to the Gold Coast in 1909 was also business-proof.
A century later, big chocolate makers are still guilty of profiting from the fruits of forced labor in their supply chain. In 1998, A Taste of Slavery: How Your Chocolate May be Tainted was published. The UNICEF report was one of the first to highlight evidence of child labor in West Africa, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire. Young people were often worked almost under horrible conditions: “the [Malian] boys had little to eat, slept in bunk-houses that were locked at night, and were frequently beaten. They had horrible sores on their backs and shoulders, some as a result of carrying the heavy bags of cocoa, but some likely the effects of physical abuse” (Off 2008: 121). Child labor in cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire involves familial and contracted labor, often including human trafficking of children from neighboring countries like Mali and Burkina Faso. Such labor conditions violate the International Labor Organization (ILO) Minimum Age Convention and the ILO Forced Labour Convention (Schrage and Ewing 2005: 101-102).
Increasing media attention to such reports of child slavery pushed the cocoa industry to stop dawdling and take action because “the mistreatment of children posed a clear threat to corporate reputation and sales” (Schrage and Ewing 2005: 104). As the United States Congress began the legislative process of banning Ivorian cacao, the industry proposed a protocol to address the reports. In September 2001, the Chocolate Manufacters Association (CMA) and the World Cocoa Foundation signed the Protocol for the Growing and Processing of Cocoa Beans and their Derivative Products in a Manner that Complies with ILO Convention 182 Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Chila Labor also known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol. Ever since its inception, the protocol has continuously been extended as chocolate companies fail to eradicate the worst form of child labor from their supply chain by their own deadlines. Many have critiqued the protocol as too lenient because a voluntary plan does not ensure the industry will be accountable.
Nestlé has undertook actions to adhere to the Harkin-Engel Protocol. The company joined the Global Issues Group (GIG), “an ad-hoc, pre-competitive association of cocoa industry participants formed in response to the agreements as spelled out in the Harkin-Engil Protocol” (Tulane research). Furthermore, Nestlé contracted UTZ Certified, a product certification organization, to be held accountable for its cacao consumption. In 2009, Nestlé established the Cocoa Plan. The hyperlinked video highlights the work of the Cocoa Plan in Côte d’Ivoire. Through the International Cocoa Initiative, the Cocoa Plan has built schools throughout Côte d’Ivoire in order to provide alternatives for children who were previously child laborers or could potentially be involved in cacao production.This iniative, among others, empowers local communities and seeks to reduce the prevalence of the “worst forms of child labor” in cacao production.In addition, Nestlé has supported further investigation into their cacao sourcing. The Fair Labor Association (FLA) conducted a thorough investigation of the company’s cacao supply chain, making it the first chocolate-maker to undertake such a process (CNN 2012). The FLA has continued these investigations, which attest to Nestlé’s investment in an ethical supply chain. Nestlé’s actions were in response to growing criticism. The company had to handle lawsuits and respond to documentaries about the persistence of forced labor in Côte d’Ivoire in order to appease its consumer base, who was demanding more accountability in the cacao supply chain.
Consumer demand for and consumption of ethically produced chocolate is highest in the United Kingdom. This trend explains why Kit Kat chocolate bars in the UK bear the Faitrade mark and Kit Kat chocolate bars in Germany do not. While both bars have the Cocoa Plan logo, Nestlé reveals that it only purchases 14.5% of its cocoa through the Plan, of which 75% is either UTZ or Fairtrade-certified (Nestle 2013: 160). While Nestlé has taken steps to ethically source its cacao, this has only been for consumers who actively demand it.
Similar to Cadbury, Nestlé is acting in a profit-maximizing way. Ethics are secondary because the investment in the Cocoa Plan for all of its chocolate would not be be as profitable beyond the UK. Unlike Cadbury, Nestlé has unfortunately not significantly addressed the Protocol because shared responsibility with other big chocolatemakers and lack of significant consumer demand diffuse the pressure to immediately conform.
Cadbury’s Advert with Rower 1885. 2010. Wikimedia Commons
CNN,. 2012. “Nestleé Advances Child Labor Battle Plan”. Retrieved March 23, 2017 (http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/29/nestle-advances-child-labor-battle-plan/).
Grant, Kevin. A Civilised Savagery: Britain and the New Slaveries in Africa, 1884-1926. London: Routledge, 2005.
Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery and Colonial Africa Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012.
Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 01, 2017.
Nestlé,. 2013. Nestlé In Society: Creating Shared Value And Meeting Our Commitments 2013. Nestlé. Retrieved March 21, 2017 (http://storage.nestle.com/Interactive_CSV_Full_2013/files/assets/common/downloads/Creating%20Shared%20Value%20Full%20Report%202013.pdf).
Nevinson, Henry Woodd. “The Slave-Trade of to-Day. Conclusion–the Islands of Doom.” Harper’s Monthly, 1906, 327-37.
Off, Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate. 1st ed. New York [u.a.]: The New Press.
Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005.
Schrage, Elliot, and Anthony Ewing. 2005. The Cocoa Industry And Child Labour. Journal of Corporate Citizenship. Retrieved March 22, 2017 (http://www.justice.gov.il/Units/Trafficking/MainDocs/The_Cocoa_Industry_and_child_labour.pdf).