Tag Archives: child labor

African Erasure from the World of Chocolate

In a 2006 press release discussing the growing popularity American chocolatier Maribel Lieberman, the PR Newswire article stated that in the past “European chocolate reigned above all, with the chocolatiers of France setting the taste for the rest of the world” (PR Newswire, 2006). Although the article goes on to note that cocoa originated in South and Central America, the articles opening sentence clearly reflects the commonly held perception that fine chocolate comes from Europe, specifically France. The press release means to introduce Ms. Lieberman’s new location for her confectionary brand, MarieBelle New York, named MarieBelle Aztec Chocolate at the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris (PR Newswire, 2006). In its close, the press release claims that “Lieberman will bring a sense of history and a taste of the tropics to the tables of the one of the worlds most elegant hotels” (PR Newswire, 2006). This press release defines chocolate as coming from the Americas, and fine chocolate as coming from Europe, but at no point in the press release is there any mention of Africa, where over 70% of the world’s cocoa originates (Leissle, 2013). The progressive separation from location and chocolate through industrialization of food has led to the erasure of West Africa as a source of cocoa and allows a history of exploitation to continue.

Most American consumers are unaware of where the chocolate found in their local market grows. This stems from the fact that many chocolate makers, like Hershey’s, sought to prioritize the standardization of their product over the beans point of origin (Leissle, 2013). This shift towards a standardized product changed the definition of quality mean consistency (Leissle, 2013), and also completely anonymized where store-bought chocolate was grown or manufactured (Leissle, 2013). The standardized chocolate products followed a growing trend of processed foods: the standardization of the Hershey’s Kiss, as well as canned, tinned and preserved products grew from advances in mechanization (Goody, 2013). Chocolate products and other food items became further disconnected with their places of origin as advances in mechanization enabled and encouraged the growth of mass-produced food (Goody, 2013). The desire for a consistent product, and the new found ability to mass produce standard foods and transport them around the world separated chocolate products not only from the point of origin of the bean, but also the point of manufacture.

The separation between chocolate products, their point of origin, and point of manufacture helps conceal the violent past and present surrounding chocolate production. Catherine Higgs discusses the involvement of Cadbury chocolate makers in Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Higgs reports that in 1907 Cadbury sent journalist Joseph Burtt to investigate reports of slavery in West Africa (Higgs, 2012). Upon his return, Burtt provided his report which detailed instances of slavery on cocoa plantations in West Africa, and as a result Cadbury spent several years investigating this report before ultimately stopping their purchase of cocoa from São Tomé and Príncipe (Higgs, 2012). This decision came after several years of efforts of European chocolate makers negotiating for better working conditions for African workers and seeking to regulate recruiting processes (Higgs, 2012). Despite Burtt’s report to Cadbury and an earlier report published by journalist Henry Nevinson, Cadbury and the British Foreign Office delayed action on the issue due to political and economic concerns (Higgs, 2012). This lack of action mirrors how the chocolate makers and legislators of today have failed to address the issue of brutal child labor in the production of chocolate. Nearly 20 years ago, American legislators as well world chocolate companies pledged to eliminate child labor from their supply lines by 2005. In the past 20 years, every deadline for this action has been missed and these companies still cannot claim that their chocolate was not made with the forced labor of children (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019).

The driving force of modern-day child labor on cocoa farms is poverty (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019). The annual income of a cocoa farming house hold in the Ivory Coast is only $1,900 (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019). This is below what is defined as poverty by the world bank (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019). In part it is because of this poverty that child persists. In order to make due, families send their underage children abroad to make money for the family, or even sell them to trafficers (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019).

Ana Palacios, Untitled, 2017, Photograph, From The Guardian US: “West African children rescued from slavery – in pictures”. New York City

The above image depicts a child, Indigo, being released to his family in Benin. Indigo escaped trafficking, and authorities are releasing him to his family in public so that the other villagers can help make sure that he is resold to a trafficker. This heartbreaking image demonstrates how dire the situation is in these communities.

As evidenced in the previous paragraphs there is a violent past and present in West Africa surrounding the production of the world’s chocolate supply. According to Peter Whoriskey and Rachel Siegel’s 2019 article, “Cocoa’s Child Laborers”, the “most prominent, sustained public attention to the issue arouse 18 years ago with reports…that linked American chocolate to child slavery in West Africa” (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019). Despite the seriousness of this issue, it does not receive much attention or action due to the fact that Africa is not associated with chocolate despite growing most of the world supply. As long as people can remain ignorant of suffering that comes with their chocolate, change will not be made.

The decoupling of West African cocoa production from chocolate is best evidenced by Africa’s invisibility in the world of fine chocolate. Earlier, this post discussed the disconnect of chocolate and where it grows that came with the standardization and mass production of chocolate bars, but in the 21st century the organic food trend helped foster the rise of single origin chocolate bars (Leissle, 2013). Single origin chocolate not only names where the cocoa is sourced, but also eschews consistency of their product to make artisanal bars which highlight the features of each batch and strain of cocoa beans (Leissle, 2013). This rapidly grown industry is considered an important facet of fine chocolate, and as a result exist in a very extensive world chocolate census of premium chocolate bars (Leissle, 2013). This database on fine chocolate products show that despite 70% of cocoa being produced in West Africa, only 3.8% of premium chocolate bars contain beans exclusively from West Africa (Leissle, 2013). This shocking statistic demonstrates how global perceptions around chocolate are strongly separated from the region where most of the world’s cocoa comes from. Leissle points out that there are logistic, economic, and aesthetic factors which play into this disparity (Leissle, 2013), but the example remains as evidence that West Africa and West African cocoa are underappreciated when many people around the world think about chocolate.

The broken promises of American legislators and large-scale chocolate makers demonstrate the presence of a connection between the strife found in West Africa due to chocolate and lack of public awareness around where everyday chocolate comes from. Industrialization and mass production of food products along with the association of high-end chocolate with Europe and America has allowed consumers to remain ignorant of West Africa’s role in cocoa production, and therefore remain ignorant of the problems in the region. In order to solve issues like child labor on cocoa farms, West Africa needs to be brought into the spotlight as a source of the world most treasured resource: chocolate.

Works Cited

“An American Chocolatier in Paris.” PR Newswire (New York), 2006.

Goody, Jack, Carole Counihan, Penny Van Esterik, and Alice Julier. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” In Food and Culture: A Reader, 263-82. 3rd ed. Routledge, 2013.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012.

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa. The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 13, no. 3 (2013): 22-31.

Palacios, Ana, documentary photographer. Untitled.A Photograph. New York: Guardian News & Media Limited, April 12th, 2017. From The Guardian US: “West African children rescued from slavery – in pictures”. https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/6a595fe549b34a5811583e21c29f217fed561899/0_0_2000_1333/master/2000.jpg?width=1920&quality=85&auto=format&fit=max&s=da0301adb4b480f1c8745df6059650b0. Accessed March 18th, 2020.

Whoriskey, Peter. Siegel, Rachel. “Cocoa’s child laborers”. Washingtonpost.com. June 10, 2019. Accessed March 23rd, 2020. https://advance-lexis-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/api/document?collection=news&id=urn:contentItem:5W9H-Y2X1-JCDY-T023-00000-00&context=1516831.

The Disovered but Hidden Usage of Child Labor in Chocolate Production


When thinking of chocolate and its production, one often thinks about cocoa and the ways in which it is harvested to make the chocolate bars that we all know and love. However, the narrative that is often left out is that of child labor and slavery that is entailed within production. Beginning in the late 1990’s the involvement of large corporations in child labor become publicized leading to a great number of documentaries and articles releasing evidence of child trafficking and labor(1). While this issue did not simply arise during this time period, it was something that was hidden and kept from the public for not only years prior but also years to come. Child labor has been deeply embedded into the world of chocolate seen through slavery and child human trafficking that Henry Nevinson recounts in the early 1900’s. When a family was appealing to an official in Belmonte in order, “to help pay off the debt, parents sold children into slavery… ‘so the matter stands, and the villagers must go on selling more and more of their wives and children that the white man’s greed may be satisfied’ Nevisnson wrote in disgust”(2). This is just one account of a journalist in the 1900’s that witnessed this, however many more began to come forward in the late 1990’s to early 2000s. 

Background of a Child’s Duty:

Many children who are surrounded by poverty are forced at a young age to either support their families through work or are sold into it. Child labor is of importance to to the chocolate industry because, “On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 per day, an income below the poverty line.  As a result, they often resort to the use of child labor to keep their prices competitive”(3). These children are often between the ages of 12 and 16, however the youngest reported was 5 years old. Their day consists of using chainsaws to clear the forest, machetes to cut bean pods from the cocoa trees (both of which are against international labor laws), and carrying the sacks of pods(4). While forced into this labor, children are also exposed to harsh conditions like poor nutrition, inadequate sleeping and living, and toxins from the industrial insecticide chemicals sprayed on the pods. 

Rules and Regulations:

While it took several years to expose child labor and trafficking, rules and protocols were soon to follow. This can be seen through the Harkin-Engel Protocol of 2001 which was, “a voluntary international agreement aimed at ending some of the worst forms of child labour”(5). Many debate whether or not this agreement had any effect on the situation at hand seeing that nothing changed after not only this promise by chocolate industries but also ones made in 2005 and 2010. It took a report by Tulane in 2015 detailing the worst forms of child labor for mass attention to be brought to the issue and for things to begin to change. Not only are companies like Nestle now in collaboration with companies like the International Cocoa Intiative (ICI) but Nestle has started the Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS)(6). These organizations still aren’t doing enough seeing that, “child labour remains at very high levels in the cocoa sector, with an estimated 2.1 million children working in cocoa ields in the Ivory Coast and Ghana alone”(7). Much will need to change in order children’s rights to be protected from large companies producing chocolate. 

Hidden Stories Exposed:

In order for this to happen transparency must be obtained, which is something that is still a fight today. Nestle has made significant steps towards this seen through the fact that they have been in collaboration with the Fair Labor Association (FLA) which forces them to publish a plan of action. This however is still not enough seeing that full access to stories and research is limited exemplified by The Washington Post discoveries. Whoriskey and Siegel went to the Ivory Coast interviewing children and while doing so they came across a boy Abou Traore who claimed to be nineteen, however, “when the farmer is distracted, Abou crouches and with his finger, writes a different answer in the gray sand:15”(8). This shows the ways in which these farms try to hide the facts and details in order to keep their business. He also stated that he came here to go to school but hadn’t been in five years. The problem as explained is that, “nearly 20 years after pledging to eradicate child labor, chocolate companies still cannot identify the farms where all thier cocoa comes from, let alone whether child labor was used in producing it”(9). With the new deadline pushed to 2020 (this year) there is still no possible way for child labour to be completely eradicated, leaving children under hashing conditions stuck in a life they have no control over. With this being said there needs to be a call to all consumers making such inequality and injustice known in order for change to be made and a better future for these children. 


  1. Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3 (2015): 51. https://doi.org/10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.
  2. Satre, Lowell J. “Henry W. Nevinson and Modern Slavery.” In Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, 5–6. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005.
  3. “Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Food Empowerment Project, foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/.
  4. “Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Food Empowerment Project, foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/.
  5. Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3 (2015): 51 . https://doi.org/10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.
  6. Fountain, Antonie, and Friedel Huetz-Adams. “Cocoa Barometer 2018.” VOICE Network. Accessed March 25, 2020. https://www.voicenetwork.eu/cocoa-barometer/.
  7. Fountain, Antonie, and Friedel Huetz-Adams. “Cocoa Barometer 2018.” VOICE Network. Accessed March 25, 2020. https://www.voicenetwork.eu/cocoa-barometer/.
  8. Whoriskey, Peter, and Rachel Siegel. “Hershey, Nestle and Mars Won’t Promise Their Chocolate Is Free of Child Labor.” The Washington Post. WP Company, June 5, 2019. shorturl.at/zCHN2
  9. Whoriskey, Peter, and Rachel Siegel. “Hershey, Nestle and Mars Won’t Promise Their Chocolate Is Free of Child Labor.” The Washington Post. WP Company, June 5, 2019. shorturl.at/zCHN2

Multimedia sources:

“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Food Empowerment Project, foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/.

Nestlé. “Tackling Child Labor”. Filmed [December 2019]. Youtube video, 2:49. Published [December 10, 2019]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hws6TlSNcj0

Whoriskey, Peter, and Rachel Siegel. “Hershey, Nestle and Mars Won’t Promise Their Chocolate Is Free of Child Labor.” The Washington Post. WP Company, June 5, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/business/hershey-nestle-mars-chocolate-child-labor-west-africa/.

Scholarly sources:

Fountain, Antonie, and Friedel Huetz-Adams. “Cocoa Barometer 2018.” VOICE Network. Accessed March 25, 2020. https://www.voicenetwork.eu/cocoa-barometer/.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3 (2015): 37-60 . https://doi.org/10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

Satre, Lowell J. “Henry W. Nevinson and Modern Slavery.” In Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, 5–6. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005.

The New Chattel: Economic Drivers of Coerced Labor in the Cocoa Industry

            The truly voluntary exchange of goods and services—a prerequisite of free market capitalism—has been absent from the history of chocolate. Nowhere has there been less freedom in this industry than in the relationship between capital and labor. Oppressive labor regimes in chocolate—slavery included—did not end with abolitionist movements at the turn of the nineteenth century; instead, de facto slavery persisted thereafter for several decades around the world. The explanatory variable for changing use of labor may instead be economic incentives. In this framework, ethical considerations represent only a marginal factor in the limitation of coerced labor; as we will see, labor productivity, commodity pricing, and growing demand for end-market goods such as chocolate have dictated the selection of labor. But even today, exploitation pervades the modern cocoa industry. While social currents are likely headed in the right direction, a truly equitable Snickers is probably a long way off.

            The notion that changing economic incentives can drive social change is not new. In his seminal work Capitalism and Slavery, Eric Williams argues that abolition in the British colonies was motivated not by altruism, but by the onset of “industrial development… [which] outgrew mercantilism and destroyed it” (106). The fundamental reasoning draws from the fact that slave labor is economically inferior to hired labor; in Williams words, “slave labor is given reluctantly, it is unskillful, it lacks versatility” (6). Of course, early plantations in the New World did make use of slave labor, but slave labor was not necessarily a first choice. The abundance of land and the relative scarcity of free labor made slavery the only viable economic alternative to maximize returns to agriculture. Once the returns from capital resources (such as land) had been exhausted, Williams contends, the inefficiencies of slavery become apparent and abolitionist movements took hold. The Williams model can be applied to the evolution of labor in the African cocoa industry: from slavery to coerced labor to modern-day oppressive labor regimes (such as child labor).

            Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, African colonies developed systems of coerced labor for cacao agriculture and other commodities. Though it is today considered a “peasant crop” in Africa (i.e. one characterized by individual ownership and small scale), cacao agriculture once operated under the plantation system. Some of the largest plantation economies existed in the Gulf of Guinea and on the islands of São Tomé and Principe (Clarence-Smith 150). In the case of the latter two, the Portuguese had abolished slavery in 1875, but a system of coerced labor persisted through the First World War. These workers could be considered de facto slaves, without access to the same rights or economic opportunities as the Portuguese. Portuguese landowners circumvented abolition law by paying their workers subsistence wages—even paying workers in bonds redeemable only at the plantation store or lending them certain resources, thereby indebting workers to the plantation system (Clarence-Smith 157).

In the post-war years, however, this system failed. Peasant farming emerged as a more cost-effective system for growing cacao despite its lack of scale—an outcome driven by what Clarence-Smith refers to as the “real cost of labor” (151). Initially, coerced labor may have been nominally cheap due low or non-existent wages. Over time, the real costs manifested as lower productivity and higher turnover relative to hired labor. For example, every year at Principe, 11% of adult cocoa laborers died, requiring a steady (and costly) stream of replacements—a demand satisfied mostly by coerced laborers from Angola (Ould et al. 5). As Clarence-Smith points out, mortality rates were amplified by diseases on the islands, to which imported labor was particularly vulnerable.

Above: Workers separate cacao seeds from their exterior pod. Seed extraction has historically been reserved for less experienced workers, including children. The act of cutting pods from cacao trees represents a more skilled task, as an improper cut may inhibit future growth (Clarence-Smith 154).
Source: Wikimedia Commons

William Cadbury (of Cadbury chocolate fame) uncovered the situation in São Tomé and Principe in 1905 through Dr. Joseph Burtt. Sent by Cadbury to investigate labor conditions, Burtt discovered that thousands of mainland Africans were imported every year to work on the cocoa plantations. On account of these findings and the ethical reservations they engendered, Cadbury and three other chocolate companies committed to boycott cocoa from the islands (Ould et al. 5). The initiative may have substituted some cacao demand from Africa to the Gold Coast in Australia, but there exists little evidence that it had a meaningful impact on production numbers. Ultimately, coerced labor persisted until plantations exhausted the returns from cacao production, after which cost-cutting initiatives took priority and “the advantage passed to peasants, who disposed of truly cheap labor” (Clarence-Smith 168).  

Today, Cacao is among a handful of crops that continues to be cultivated via peasant agriculture—supporting at least 5.5 million smallholder farmers globally (Weiligmann et al. 2010). A plurality of those farmers are located in Côte D’Ivoire, the world’s foremost producer of cacao, satisfying 40% of global consumption (Schrage and Ewing 100). But in Côte D’Ivoire and elsewhere in Africa where cacao is cultivated, local ownership has not eliminated coerced labor. The rampant use of child labor in the cocoa industry is one example of coerced labor that continues to this day.

Above: This video provides a quick summary of the scope of child labor in the cacao industry and the initiatives—such as the Harkin-Engel protocol—which have failed to enforce ethical labor standards.

According to an International Institute for Tropical Agriculture report from 2002, an estimated 284,000 children were engaged in child labor on cocoa farms in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria (International Labour Organization). The extent to which children have been coerced into working on cacao farms may have worsened in the two decades since that study. In 2019, the Washington Post published an investigative piece by Peter Whoriskey and Rachel Siegel which interviewed farmers and child laborers directly in Côte D’Ivoire. According to one farmer interviewed by the Post, “[child labor] is a kind of slavery.” Despite the fact that the laborers interviewed received about $4.50 for a week of grueling work, large chocolate companies like Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé have moved slowly to address the problem (Whoriskey and Siegel). For more info, please refer to the Post article.

Chocolate is not a necessity; in the words of activist Paul Schoenmakers, chocolate is a gift, suggesting a lack of necessity (Whoriskey and Siegel). Yet, for this gift, millions have suffered and continue to suffer today, even in the face of advocacy from governments and nonprofit organizations. This may be due to the fact that economic incentives—which cannot as easily be changed by policymakers or activists—are a material driver of social change. Until development reaches the regions where cacao is grown and economic opportunities for labor improve, our institutions may be powerless to eliminate coerced labor and, therefore, a truly ethical chocolate bar may be impossible.

Works Cited:

Clarence-Smith, William Gervase. “Cocoa Plantations and Coerced Labor in the Gulf of Guinea, 1870-1914.” In Breaking the Chains. Slavery, Bondage, and Emancipation in Modern Africa and Asia, University of Wisconsin Press.

Ould, David, et al. “The Cocoa Industry in West Africa: A History of Exploitation.” Anti-Slavery International, Anti-Slavery International, 2004, digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3917&context=globaldocs.

“Rooting out Child Labour from Cocoa Farms: Paper No. 1.” International Labour Organization, International Labour Organization, 12 Jan. 2007, file:///Users/gentydaku/Downloads/RootingOut_CL_fromCcoca_Farms_No1_En (1).pdf.

Schrage, Elliot J., and Anthony P. Ewing. “The Cocoa Industry and Child Labour.” Journal of Corporate Citizenship, vol. 2005, no. 18, Jan. 2005, pp. 99–112., doi:10.9774/gleaf.4700.2005.su.00013.

Weiligmann, B., et al. “TCC Cocoa Barometer 2010.” Cocoa Net, Tropical Commodity Coalition, 2010, http://www.cocoanet.eu/fileadmin/data-pool/2010-09-25_TCC_COCOA_Barometer2010_GB.pdf.

Whoriskey, Peter, and Rachel Siegel. “Hershey, Nestle and Mars Won’t Promise Their Chocolate Is Free of Child Labor.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 5 June 2019, http://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/business/hershey-nestle-mars-chocolate-child-labor-west-africa/.

Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. The University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

The Rich Yet Dark History of Chocolate: The Socioeconomic Implications of Slavery in the Cacao Growing Industry

Child Labor in Côte d’Ivoire: the dark side of chocolate

When the majority of us think about chocolate, our mind races to the sweet taste as we bite into a brownie just out of the oven, or the delicate melting of a Hershey’s kiss on our tongues, or maybe even the memories and feelings the aroma of chocolate invoke in us from special moments past. Chocolate is a seemingly universal sign of love and loss, a way in which we can transcend cultural barriers and be united under a common fondness of the sweet, buttery delicacy we know as chocolate.

However, while chocolate has a rich history dating back to the Olmecs (1500 BCE- 400 BCE), possible ancestors of the Mayans, the lineage of the first cacao beverage to the chocolate we consume today is more bitter than sweet. The story is characterized by the forced labor, slavery, and death of millions of indigenous peoples. In order to fully comprehend the role of slavery in the chocolate industry and the ways in which it has created both social and economic consequences, it is necessary to outline the basics of the plant itself as well as go back to the beginning of the cultivation of cacao to see how it came to be the global phenomenon it is today. 

Cacao beans, and, consequently, chocolate, grow on the tree called theobroma cacao. Grown best in very humid and high-temperature conditions, the geographic centers of diversity for this plant are what is modern Central and South America (Martin, Lecture 1). Large pods grow on the trunks of the tree and contain beans which are then processed to produce cacao “nibs” which are then made into chocolate. First, the seeds are fermented, then dried, after roasted, and finally winnowed. At this point, there is now a cacao liquor (Coe, 1996).

Cacao represented in the Mayan Madrid Codex

Cacao existed centuries before Europeans laid their hands, or taste buds, on it. The Mayans (1500 BCE) considered cacao to be very multifaceted, with evidence that they used it in medicinal, religious, and social contexts. The image above shows how this “food of the gods” was represented in Mayan culture (Madrid Codex), by highlighting the prominence of the good in social life as well as displaying the hieroglyphic for the word kakaw, the source of the Spanish “cacao.” The Aztecs (1200 CE) also played an important role with cacao, one of the biggest being the shift we see in how “the presence of cacao beans—mentioned by the chronicler Diaz del Castillo (1495-1583)—in the stalls of the great market of Tlatelolco, the central market of the city of Mexico Tenochtitlan, seems to indicate a more generalized usage among the population, at least on special occasions” (Orellana et. al. 2011).

The “discovery” of chocolate by Europeans in Mesoamerica created the biggest shifts in terms of intensification of production and the commodification of the object. There was a need for cheap and plentiful labor in order to cultivate and produce chocolate for consumption and profit, thus we see a transition from the prior system of encomienda (first image below), a corrupt labor system under the Spanish Crown in American colonies which “led to extreme demographic collapse and usurpation of indigenous land in Central and South America” (Martin, Lecture 5), to that of African slave labor (second image below). “These slaves were often traded for cacao beans that Portuguese slave ships could then transport to New Spain or re-sell (for a profit) on the black market of Dutch- or British-ruled Caribbean islands” (Orellana et. al. 2011).

From 1500 to 1900, 10-15 million enslaved African people were transported across the Atlantic, to the Caribbean predominately, into chattel slavery, a system in which people are treated as the personal property of the owner and bought and sold as a commodity. But those are just the ones who survived. For every 100 who reached the colonies, 40 others died in the brutal transport known as the “Middle Passage.” This practice of taking Africans from their land for free labor resulted in the demise of the population of Africa in half by the year 1800 (Martin, Lecture 5).  

Cacao and sugar are two very interconnected goods, intertwined through shared deep and disturbing histories. This allows us to draw on the workings of other experts, such as Sydney Mintz in his book “Sweetness and Power” to understand cacao and the sociopolitical economic factors in play better. For example, he writes, “England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fastest in creating a plantation system. The most important product of the system was sugar” (Mintz, 1985).

It is important that we are conscientious of the fact that, every time we bite into the sweet chocolate we so know and love, it is traced with the dark history of pain, greed, and destruction of human lives. Equally important, if not even more urgent, is that we acknowledge the child labor and forced labor still present today in many cacao growing regions of the world and that we don’t become complacent within this capitalistic system which prioritizes profits over human life. 

The video embedded below is a segment from an investigation by 16×9 entitled “Child Labor: The Dark Side of Chocolate.” The clip illustrates the crushing poverty and endemic use of child labor in Ghana while highlighting the importance of fair trade and holding corporations accountable for finding ethical sources of cacao beans for their chocolate products. 

This video goes to show, we must unwrap the pretty gold foil that covers the bitter, dark reality of chocolate and work to mitigate the historical injustices present in the industry as well as be mindful of the ways in which we, as consumers, can act today to improve the conditions in the future. Whether this is buying only fair trade chocolate or advocating for chocolate mega-companies to do better, we have the power to change the narrative, or maybe recipe, in this case, to a sweeter one. 

Maybe it’s time we view chocolate not as a guilty pleasure because it breaks your latest diet or because its taste is so sweet it seems sinful. But instead, because, with every bite we take, we are helping support an industry not only created through the exploitation of indigenous and African people, but that is still sustained even today, in 2020, by this type of unjust labor system.

If we ever want to be able to enjoy a chocolate chip cookie without a pang of guilt for the crimes against humanity committed, we must work to create a more equitable chocolate industry. We can eat dark chocolate, but not without acknowledging the dark history of the socioeconomic reverberations of slavery which still continue in many forms today. 

Works Cited

Children Sold to Plantation Owners Form Part of Worldwide Supply Chains in the Making of Chocolate. SomeOfUs.org.

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food” Lecture, Cambridge, MA, 2020.

Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe, “The True History of Chocolate” (London: Thames and Hudson, 1996)

Madrid Codex: “Chaak  [The Mayan rain deity] and Lady Earth are given their cacao.”

Margarita de Orellana et. al., “Chocolate: Cultivation and Culture in pre-Hispanic Mexico,” in Artes de México 103 (2011): 65-80.

Martin, Carla. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal” Lecture, Cambridge, MA, 2020.

Spanish conquistadors torturing Native Americans. Print Collector/Getty Images

West Africans transported to the coast to be sold into slavery. Wikimedia Commons.

Mintz, Sidney W. “Sweetness and Power” 1985
[16x9onglobal]. (2012, August 13). Child Labour: The Dark Side of Chocolate. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXWFXeIZY9g

Historical Exposition – The Extractive Story of Cacao and Labor

While first indigenous to the Western hemisphere, cacao and its products are inarguably a global phenomenon. Essentially from first contact between the “Old” and “New” worlds, much like many other commodities, cacao’s history changed rapidly to reflect a globalized market. One important facet of this history is the relationship between cacao and those that cultivate it. In this blog post I seek to dive into the history and evolution of the labor surrounding cacao, specifically highlighting crucial areas of change and key characteristics that have remained static. I argue that while much has changed since the first colonial contact centuries ago, the story of cacao and labor has been one of extraction in a broad sense of the word. By “extraction,” I hope to encompass both the literal definition of taking and removing , as well as the more nebulous separation of the physical labor and production value. Ultimately, I believe that while the labor structures surrounding cacao production have transformed, from explicit slave labor to more market-based practices today, the process has always deemphasized the humanization of the laborer in favor of the bottom line. 

From the beginning of colonial times, indigenous peoples and resources were quickly commodified by Europeans and sought after for their market value. There is no such better example of this than the divergent path cacao takes in the 15th and 16th century from traditional native use to colonial extraction. Kathryn Sampeck provides a case study of this by focusing on the Izalcos region of present day El Salvador (2). Before the arrival of the Spanish, Mesoamerican societies used the cacao for consumption in various rituals and cultural traditions, as well as a tool for exchange (Sampek 7). However, colonization changed cacao entirely, from its production which rapidly started to rely on imported slave labor, to its eventual production value as an exported good and solidified currency. Here, Sampek makes clear that by divorcing the labor of cacao from its social nature with “commodity money,” there is a form of violence at play in a Marxist sense (19-20). This concept becomes a useful lens to apply to our historical analysis of cacao production, as we can see repeatedly that despite the labels or details of the production changing, the humanity of the labor is never emphasized and laborers are simply used as a means to the ends of production. 

A clear demonstration of this transformation of the human laborer into a tool like an axe or a grind stone that is utilized for production comes from the 19th century engraving of slaves being transported (OpenDemocracy, Everett Historical/Shutterstock). Here, the African people are literally being moved like livestock or even bags of grain. Tied together at the neck, there is no agency or individuality, yet also no sense of community or social group. While this form of labor dehumanization was not unique to cacao, it played a prominent part in early cacao cultivation and as we will see, this essence of mistreatment will continue. 

Years later at the turn of the 20th century, cacao production continued but under ostensibly more “humane” conditions. For many British chocolate manufacturers like Cadbury, cacao was purchased from Portuguese colonies like Sao Tomé and Principé. These plantations purportedly had outlawed slavery and were using a system of contract labor where serviçais worked in government approved contracts in a consensual labor system (Satre 18-19). Nevertheless, reports soon developed that the laborers were in fact coerced and that conditions on these plantations were tantamount to slavery. While this apparently shocked many of the players involved in European chocolate production, change and reform were very slow to come about (Satre 93). This era of the history of cacao is another reminder that for those with the power to control the process of production, the end efficiency and profit is their paramount concern, not the rights of the workers who themselves control very little. In fact, the little that the serviçais, or even the colonial slaves, had of their own was their bodies and labor. Yet, in the system of cacao production, that too is stripped of them either by explicit force, or the force of the market that leaves them dehumanized and void. 

Today, we like to think that many humanitarian advances have been made in our market economy with the advent of “fair-trade” and greater social-conscientiousness. While it is true that much has improved, there is still important work to be done to get to the heart of the problem of cacao production. A striking example of this comes from a VPRO Metropolis video report where Western African cacao farmers were interviewed and given a taste of processed chocolate for the first time (Youtube, VPROMetropolis). It is astounding to hear the cacao farmers explain that they did not know what the beans they were producing and selling would be used for, and equally remarkable to witness their disbelief that their beans created the chocolate they are tasting. This proves that the separation of social humane labor into a mere act of work still continues today. Without even knowing what they are toiling away at, as well as not truly enjoying any of the profits or benefits of the cacao production, the farmers are genuine dehumanized cogs in a globalized machine. 

To further the point, the 2018 Cacao Barometer provides more information as to the plight of the West African cacao laborers, explaining that the average farmer income is just $0.78 a day (6). It is clear that they are not being properly compensated for their labor, only furthering their exploitation. The element of labor extraction also becomes inherently competitive as farmers are pitted against one another to drive prices down, with the trend of plunging prices due to global oversupply causing further strife for the laborers (Barometer 8). A unique issue of labor exploitation is also raised with the issue of child labor, with 2.1 million children working in West Africa alone (Barometer 15). The image from NowToronto demonstrates that the work put into cacao production is grueling, especially for children (NowToronto, SumOfUs.org). The harmful effects of labor extraction are only magnified here in the case of children as their labor as well as their futures are being robbed of them. Forfeiting an education for low-wage manual labor deprives child workers of future potential as well. 

At the end of the day, the history of cacao production is a story that has not changed deeply beyond surface appearance. Despite changes in the packaging of the market processes, those producing cacao, and many other products, are denied their humanity and stripped of their worth. As long as cacao is extracted from underprivileged communities in the same way that the work and humanity of its laborers are extracted, the oppressive history of cacao production will continue.

Works Cited 

A 19th-Century Engraving of African Captives Yoked and Walking to the Coast for Sale. Everett Historical/Shutterstock. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/beyond-trafficking-and-slavery/uncomfortable-silences-anti-slavery-colonialism-and-imperialism/

Children Sold to Plantation Owners Form Part of Worldwide Supply Chains in the Making of Chocolate. SomeOfUs.org. https://nowtoronto.com/news/chocolate-child-labour-slavery-hersheys/

“First Taste of Chocolate in Ivory Coast.” Youtube, VPRO Metropolis, 21 Feb. 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEN4hcZutO0.

Fountain, Antonie and Friedel Huetz-Adams. 2018. Cocoa Barometer. pp. 1-76.

Sampeck, Kathryn. 2019. “Cacao and Violence: Consequences of Money in Colonial Guatemala.” pp. 1-24

Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp. 1-32, 73-99

Moneda, Marx, and Mars: Chocolate’s violent role in historical and modern capital markets

Moneda, Marx, and Mars: Chocolate’s violent role in historical and modern capital markets

            Chocolate: sweet and saccharine. We typically associate this delectable treat with ideas of happiness and warmth. Valentine’s Day is a prime example, where chocolate is bought to represent the depth of one’s love for another. However, this lovely food—despite its unassuming appearance in the modern-day consumer market—has also historically been the catalyst for capitalist violence, a behavior that has continued to this very day. Chocolate cultivation has contributed greatly to the perpetuation of elitist abuse of labor in capitalist markets for close to 500 years. This blog aims to quickly analyze such a phenomenon in a Marxist lens, eventually coming to a brief discussion as to the potential solutions to such violence today.

            First, chocolate’s use as currency in the Izalcos region of colonial Guatemala is a prime example of its historical role in the Marxist physical and mental abuse of the working class. This Mesoamerican region played host to one of the first—and most violent—uses of the Spanish labor encomienda system to control cacao production and distribution. The Spanish capitalist elites developed a complex network of militaristic control over native towns and mandated the usurpation of communal Nahua land for private purposes.[1] Many natives were put to work without pay. Many were killed. Such a violent system of capital accumulation and labor abuse was a stark grab for monetary profits in the creation of such money itself: cacao, as it could be exchanged with natives for goods and services, was extremely valuable. Marx himself might argue that this above described class struggle would not have occurred without the presence of cacao as money in the first place. Money itself is the first appearance of capital in Marxist thought.[2] Therefore, cacao—as currency—was both the theoretical and physical basis behind classist violence in colonial Guatemala.

            Second, chocolate—or, more specifically, sugar—contributed to the spread of chattel slavery throughout the Americas in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. Sugar was the main crop produced on Caribbean plantations during this time period. Islands were covered in cane fields, the monotony of monoculture only broken by the occasional refinery mill. Although virtually all of the monetary spoils from these large-scale agricultural efforts went to European owners, the gruesome work was done by African slaves.[3] These workers were exploited beyond compare, often pushed to death in the matter of months, especially in Cuba and Brazil. Brazilian owners didn’t care for longevity: it was often the financially sensible decision to buy another slave than care for one that is sick or injured.[4] Cuban slave owners often had to quell instances of violence or insubordination, as their African slaves learned to express their humanity in the only way possible—classist struggle.[5] Understandably, a large quantity of this sugar was used in the production of European chocolate, a stark catalyst in the Marxist idea of elitist abuse of human labor for profit. Arguably, this sugar production was also the foundation for the Industrial Revolution itself.[6]

            Today, chocolate’s role in the Marxist struggle of the working class against the exploitative efforts of the elite in capital markets continues. In Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, cacao farmers make less than a dollar a day.[7] Their labor is constantly squeezed by large multinational confectionaries like Cadbury, Nestle, and Mars. In addition, estimates from the United States Department of Labor claim that more than two million children engage in hazardous work on cocoa farms in the above-mentioned African countries. According to reports from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, “dangerous conditions on these farms that may impact children’s health, access to education, and future livelihoods include spraying pesticides, lifting heavy loads, burning fields, and using sharp tools.” This is, rather obviously, a Marx-esque exploitation of labor for the purposes of profit and elite capital accumulation.[8]

As more than 60% of the world’s cocoa is produced in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, it is imperative that these awful practices are stopped. We cannot morally stand by and allow such atrocities to occur. One promising avenue to remedy the chocolate industry’s ongoing problem with labor exploitation is the adoption of fair-trade ideals. According to Caitlin McGonnigal in her paper “Karl Marx and the Fair-Trade Chocolate Industry in the Ivory Coast”, working towards fair trade ideals can be described as an attempt towards a Marxist economic ideal. The eradication of child labor, the preservation of the environment, and the fair payment of workers would surely move the chocolate industry towards a Marxist idea of goodness and make the trade vastly more humane.[9]

Understandably, cacao has played a large role in the elitist exploitation of labor. As currency, it promoted violence in colonial Mesoamerica. As a vessel for sugar, it spearheaded the spread of chattel slavery throughout the Caribbean in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Today, it is the mechanism by which millions of families are exploited for multinational corporate gain. However, with the adoption of free trade ideals, the industry may soon finally be able to put its long-standing violent practices to rest. Chocolate is dark. Chocolate is bitter. However, despite such qualities, it is still sweet. Let’s hope those in charge of cocoa’s future embrace such sweetness, eradicating the unpleasant tastes of the current industry in the pursuit of something better.

Works Cited

Arsenault, Natalie, and Christopher Rose. “Africa Enslaved.” University of Texas, March 2006. https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/hemispheres/_files/pdf/slavery/Slavery_in_Brazil.pdf.

Wikimedia CommonsWikimedia Commons. Accessed March 22, 2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cacao-moneda.jpg.

“Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa.” U.S. Department of Labor. Accessed March 22, 2020. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/our-work/child-forced-labor-trafficking/child-labor-cocoa.

Wikimedia CommonsWikimedia Commons. Accessed March 22, 2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chuao_003.JPG.

Fleishman, Eleanor S. “Sugar, Slavery, and Violence: the Moral Economy of Slaves on Nineteenth-Century Cuban Ingenios.” George Washington University Masters’ Program, August 31, 2013.

Franceschi, Jose Vicente. “How Will the Chocolate Industry Approach Cocoa Farmer ‘Living Income’?” confectionerynews.com. Accessed March 22, 2020. https://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2018/05/03/How-will-the-chocolate-industry-approach-cocoa-farmer-living-income.

Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons. Accessed March 22, 2020 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate_mousse_cake_2.jpg

Higman, B. W. “The Sugar Revolution.” The Economic History Review 53, no. 2 (2000): 213–36. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0289.00158.

McGonnigal, Caitlin. “Karl Marx and the Fair Trade Chocolate Industry in the Ivory Coast.” Clocks and Clouds 2, no. 1 (2012). http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/1611/karl-marx-and-the-fair-trade-chocolate-industry-in-the-ivory-coast.

Sampeck, Kathryn E. “Cacao and Violence: Consequences of Money in Colonial Guatemala.” Historical Archaeology 53, no. 3-4 (January 2019): 535–58. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41636-019-00206-7.

“The Slave Trade’s Significance.” Digital History. Accessed March 22, 2020. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=447.

[1] Sampeck, Kathryn E. “Cacao and Violence: Consequences of Money in Colonial Guatemala.” Historical Archaeology 53, no. 3-4 (January 2019): 535–58.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Higman, B. W. “The Sugar Revolution.” The Economic History Review 53, no. 2 (2000): 213–36.

[4] Arsenault, Natalie, and Christopher Rose. “Africa Enslaved.”

[5] Fleishman, Eleanor S. “Sugar, Slavery, and Violence: the Moral Economy of Slaves on Nineteenth-Century Cuban Ingenios.” 

[6] “The Slave Trade’s Significance.” Digital History.

[7] Franceschi, Jose Vicente. “How Will the Chocolate Industry Approach Cocoa Farmer ‘Living Income’?” confectionerynews.com.

[8] “Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa,” U.S. Department of Labor

[9] Caitlin McGonnigal, “Karl Marx and the Fair Trade Chocolate Industry in the Ivory Coast,” Clocks and Clouds 2, no. 1 (2012),

The Dark History of Chocolate

It’s no secret that a lot of us love chocolate, but what has always been a source of pleasure for us remains a source of pain for millions of others. When we say that chocolate is our guilty pleasure, we think of how it tastes great but is loaded with sugar and fat. However, one source of guilt that we often fail to acknowledge when consuming chocolate is the human cost hidden behind its production. From the indigenous people of Mesoamerica to the current children working in cocoa farms in West Africa, millions of men, women, and children have been exploited in the production of cocoa over the span of several hundred years. Despite countless efforts to reform labor practices in cocoa production, we continue to see issues like the child labor epidemic in West Africa. Moreover, while efforts to reduce exploitative labor practices in the chocolate industry continue, the future looks grim. With a history of cocoa and chocolate producers valuing profits over people, producers are likely to only continue looking for ways to cheapen the cost of their labor. 

When the Spanish first arrived in Mesoamerica, the origin of cacao and chocolate, it took very little time for them to grasp the importance of chocolate and begin to exploit the indigenous people of the land they had invaded (Coe and Coe 110). While chocolate was initially of interest to the Spanish due to the economic importance of cacao beans in the native economy, the Spanish slowly acquired a taste for chocolate and began to export it to Europe (Coe and Coe  125). Soon after the Conquest, the Spaniards were lured to Soconusco for their cacao. As the demand for chocolate increased due to a growing craving for chocolate in Europe, rapacious conquistadors began enslaving the indigenous people of Soconusco such that a slave would be valued at one fifth of a load of cacao. However, on May 29th, 1537 Pope Paul III Farnese would publish the Sublima Deus which threatened to excommunicate any Christian that enslaved an “Indian”. While this led to the end of the enslavement of indigenous people, this merely led to the Encomienda system in which encomenderos were getting what amounted to forced, free labor in return for which they were to see that the native people became Christians (Coe and Coe  178). However, due to an epidemic of diseases of Old World origin and mistreatment by the Spaniards, approximately 90% of the ingienous population of the Americas had died while the demand for chocolate only grew (Coe and Coe  125). 

Indigenous people forced into labor by the Encomienda system

In order to meet the demands for cocoa by Europe without the loss of profits, the falling population of the indigenous people of Mesoamerica were offset by the importation of slaves from Africa. By the 17th century, two triangles of trade would arise in which raw materials, goods, and slaves would be traded between the New World, Europe, and Africa. The most important feature of these triangles was the “Middle Passage” in which human beings were sent across the Atlantic to be forced into labor on plantations run by European colonizers (Mintz 44). This plantation system in which sugar, cacao, and other products were produced were grounded in the use of harsh, forced labor in which the average life expectancy of an enslaved person living in the Caribbean and Brazil was about seven to eight years. Despite abolition and the emancipation of slaves throughout the 1800s, abolition did not put an end to extreme inequality or exploitative labor practices. For example, in the early 1900s, it was found that cocoa plantations in Fernando Po and Cameroon were still using slave labor. Moreover, the use of slaves was common on Portuguese plantations from the 1880s well into the 1950s (Martin). Thus for years many plantations were able to keep the price of cocoa down as demand went up by using forced labor and slavery. 

Ship used to transport slaves in the Middle Passage

Currently despite labor reformation efforts, child labor is still being utilized to produce the chocolate that we eat in the United States. Although major chocolate producers like Mars, Nestlé, and Hershey pledged to discontinue their use of cocoa harvested by children approximately 20 years ago, a great portion of the chocolate we buy and consume today contains cocoa produced by child labor (Whoriskey and Siegel). According to the U.S. Labor Department, more than 2 million children have been found to be engaged in dangerous labor in cocoa-growing regions in West Africa, where 60 percent of the world’s cocoa supply comes from (“Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa”). Despite efforts to eradicate child labor from the chocolate industry, chocolate industries are unable to identify the farms from which their cocoa comes from, let alone identify their labor practices. For example, Mars can only trace 24 percent of their cocoa supply back to the farms in which they were produced (Whoriskey and Siegel). Thus, despite efforts by the chocolate industry to solve the child labor epidemic in the cocoa industry, deadlines and goals have only been pushed back. 

Dangers of Child Labor in Cocoa

The Full Story on Cocoa’s Child Laborers: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/business/hershey-nestle-mars-chocolate-child-labor-west-africa/

While the fight to improve labor conditions in the chocolate industry continues, it is unlikely that we will see big changes any time soon. With the history of cocoa producers having a blatant disregard for human life and clear mindset of profits over people, it will be extremely difficult for chocolate producers to trace their cocoa supplies back to farms or punish farms for exploitative labor practices as both of these efforts would require a large financial investment and cuts to profit. Moreover, until chocolate producers are willing to pay more for ethically sourced cocoa, farmers will be forced to continue using child labor in order to cope with cocoa’s low market price (Whoriskey and Siegel). Therefore, as long as the cocoa industry refuses to cut its profits in order to enact change, exploitative labor practices will continue. 

Works Cited

“Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa.” U.S. Department of Labor


Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.

Martin, Carla D. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” AFRAMER 119x. 26 Feb. 2020, 


Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Viking, 1985.

Whoriskey, Peter, and Rachel Siegel. “Hershey, Nestle and Mars Won’t Promise Their Chocolate 

Is Free of Child Labor.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 5 June 2019, 


An Examination of Unethical Practices in the Cocoa Industry

An Examination of Unethical Practices in the Cocoa Industry

(Food Empowerment Project)


This semester we looked intensively at the use of slave labor in the chocolate industry, and the responsibility of chocolate companies to do their part in ensuring that the chocolate they sell is not coming from unethical child labor. Top chocolate selling companies like Nestle and Hershey have all taken accountability for their role in the problem and pledged to fight to eliminate child labor in the production of cocoa.  In fact, a couple of years ago, Nestle made the news with its pledge that its iconic KitKat bars would be made with cocoa that has been verified by third party agencies to ensure that it was supplied from ethical sources. Yet, KitKat is only one type of bar that Nestle makes, and no statement was issued regarding whether or not the rest of their chocolate products would be subjected to this new guideline. This small step was not highly regarded by those looking for chocolate companies to take legitimate steps towards fighting this issue. Although Nestle hoped that their pledge would take some pressure off of them, it had no such effect. In 2018, a U.S. federal appeals court reopened a lawsuit filed by a group of former child slaves accusing Nestle of perpetuating child labor in the Ivory Coast. (Bellon) Nestle was also sued by a legal firm who alleges that they deceived consumers about the use of slave labor to provide cocoa for their brands Crunch and Butterfinger. This same legal firm has also opened a lawsuit against Hershey and Mars on similar grounds. So, the three largest chocolate companies in the world, are all facing lawsuits over using chocolate that is the result of slave labor. Anyone who is familiar with the horrors children face on cocoa farms would surely be angered and disgusted. Due to the history of this country, the term slavery should be enough of a trigger word alone to dissuade any company from wanting to be associated with any product that is the result of slave labor. This, coupled with the fact that chocolate companies are consistently being sued for their role in perpetuating slave labor on cocoa, makes me wonder why chocolate companies are not doing more to distance themselves from these unethical cocoa farms. 


First, let’s take a look at some statistics that contribute to the problem. There are about 5 to 6 million cocoa farmers in the world, and another 40-50 million who depend on the cocoa industry for their livelihood. (USDOL) Almost 70% percent of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa. Nearly 40% of the Ivory Coast’s population is involved in some form of cocoa farming and 60% of the Ivory Coast’s export revenue is funded by the cocoa industry. (USDOL) As you can see, West African countries heavily depend on the cocoa industry for economic stability. For many of them, it is their most consistent and stable form of income for the country. Thus, it makes sense that they want to minimize their costs as much as possible. The typical cocoa farmer in the Ivory Coast and Ghana is paid an average of $2 per day. This forces many farmers to turn to the cheapest form of labor possible, child/slave labor. Because many in West Africa live in poverty, children are often forced to start working to help support their families at very young ages. This makes them a lot more susceptible to being trafficked, kidnapped, or sold into slave labor. The children can work up to 100 hours a week and perform a number of dangerous tasks such as: operating a machete, carrying bags of cocoa pods that weigh over 100 lbs, and operating in close proximity with chemicals without protective gear. (slavefreechocolate) If they try to escape or aren’t working fast enough, they are beaten and whipped. Some of the children involved in slave labor are as young as 5 or 6 years old.

 (International Labor Rights Forum)

Chocolate Companies’ Role

With the knowledge of all the horrors children face in the cocoa industry, it would seem that everyone, including the major chocolate companies, would want to fight to end this issue. Yet, chocolate companies have been largely idle. In 2001, the US House of Representatives decided to take action and voted to consider a bill which would require all chocolate companies to confirm that they were child labor free and to label their products this way. (Willow) American chocolate companies responded with a fierce lobbying campaign against this law. They argued that there was no way for them to control what happened on cocoa farms across the world, and that cocoa supply lines were usually so long and complex that it was nearly impossible to verify that the cocoa they receive came from a farm that did not make use of child labor. Because of the lobbying efforts of American chocolate companies, the protocol the house wanted to vote on was watered down and released in 2001 as the Harkin-Engel Protocol. (Willow) The Harkin-Engel protocol did not require companies to verify that their chocolate is not supplied by slave labor, and the issue of labeling seemed to be completely forgotten. We are almost 20 years removed from the release of the protocol and almost nothing substantial seems to have been accomplished. Even KitKat’s gesture is not even close to the type of support needed to spark real change in the industry. This was a major win for chocolate companies, whose response to the original protocol is indicative of the fact that they just don’t have any real interest in solving this issue.

(Bellon, 2018)

 There are a couple reasons the chocolate giants are disinterested in putting forth any real effort towards solving the child/slave labor issue we have examined so far. One, as stated earlier, is that it would require effort on the part of the chocolate companies to ensure that their cocoa is produced ethically. Supply chains in the cocoa industry are long and complex, and because of the enormous child labor problem in Western Africa, it would take a lot of verification on their end to determine that the companies they are buying from are using ethical practices. However, second and probably most important, is the fact that it would require chocolate giants like Hershey and Nestle to sacrifice some of their profit. According to the Prime Minister of the Ivory Coast, chocolate companies will have to pay around 10 times the current price of price of cocoa if they want to end the use of unethical child labor there. This would obviously drive up the price of their products, and cut into a big percentage of their profits. Any strategy that encourages corporations to sacrifice profit in the name of morality is one that is flawed. So, let’s look at some alternative ways to end dangerous child labor on the Western Africa cocoa farms.


The biggest reason that this situation exists is poverty. The West African economy depends so heavily on the cocoa industry, however there is not even a minimum wage or minimum price for farmers to sell their cocoa. This was not the case until the cocoa industry was privatized in 1999. Once the industry was privatized, cocoa prices fell drastically, poverty became widespread, and the government stopped spending money on necessities such as healthcare and education. (USDOL) This all came at the expense of the cocoa farmers who work in isolation on small farms with no way to communicate with each other about market cocoa prices. World cocoa prices have been well below the price of production costs since the industry was privatized. Some countries refuse to buy cocoa from West African countries who they suspect of using slave labor on their farms. This causes West African farmers to have to sell their cocoa at an even lower price. Farmers do not even make enough money to afford trucks to transport their beans so they are forced to rely on exploitative middlemen, who give them cash for the beans and haul them away. Without the knowledge of the worth of their beans, farmers are unable negotiate better prices for them. Instead, they must just accept the prices that these exploitative buyers are willing to pay or risk not selling their beans at all. So, even if cocoa prices rise, the farmers themselves will not be able to benefit from it.


A major step towards a solution would be for more advanced countries, like the United States, who purchase large amounts of cocoa from countries who use slave labor and are concerned about slave labor in Africa to invest in the farmers in those countries. Equipping farmers with something simple like trucks to transport their beans to markets would allow them to have an understanding of world prices, negotiate better prices for themselves, and cut out exploitative middlemen who take away a lot of their profit. This alone would increase producer surplus exponentially and allow farmers to be able to rely on more ethical forms of labor to produce their cocoa. Another possible solution would be a mandate of a minimum price for cocoa. Thanks to Fair Trade Certified producer groups, this is the case in some countries in Western Africa. These groups cover different nine African countries and represent thousands of farmers. Chocolate companies who buy from farms belonging to a Fair Trade Certified group pay the farmers the world market price plus a stipend that guarantees farmers have livable wages. (Food Empowerment Project) Farms that belong to these groups are inspected once a year and there is zero tolerance for unethical labor practices. Although only a small portion of the world’s cocoa is produced on Fair Trade Certified farms, they represent a possible solution to the problem. A more drastic approach would be to standardize groups like this, and to force all farms to join a group like this in order to be legally able to sell cocoa beans. This approach would likely be seen as problematic because the chocolate giants are not buying their cocoa from Fair Trade Certified farms. However, to combat that point, we must hold large chocolate-selling companies like Nestle and Hershey accountable. Countries who allow these chocolate giants to sell their products should pass legislation similar to that of the original Harkin-Engel protocol proposal. These companies should not be allowed to sell their products without verifying that their cocoa is supplied by ethical sources. This is extremely important because, like the farmers, these companies are looking to minimize their production costs. Changing the way the farmers do business won’t completely eradicate child labor if the chocolate giants are not forced to also make the switch to more ethical practices. Forcing the chocolate companies’ hand will ensure that the farmers are not the ones who suffer the consequences of changed legislation. Because, as we have seen, when the farmers suffer, they turn to cheap, unethical solutions.


West African countries depend heavily on the cocoa industry for economic success. Their reliance on this industry, cocoa farmers struggle to sell their product for a livable wage and chocolate companies refusal to acknowledge their role in the situation resulted in this large-scale slave labor problem that we see today. If we truly want to eradicate this problem in Western Africa, solutions like the one laid out in this paper are a good start. I hope that through this paper you have a better understanding of the horrors of slave labor on cocoa farms. However, I also hope that you are optimistic about the future, because solutions are right in front of us. We just have to hold the major players in this cruel game accountable.


Media Citations

  • International Labor Rights Forum, 2014

Overcoming a History of Human Rights Abuses: Cocoa’s Evolution from Contributing to the Slave Trade to Combatting Child Labor

The well-documented history of cocoa tells the story of an industry driven by greed. However, the picture that is often painted does not speak to how this has evolved.

Dating back as far as 1500 BCE to 400 BCE, the period spanning the Olmec civilization, discoveries and research have firmly validated the significant role that cocoa has long-played in both culture and religion (Coe and Coe, 2013). The same history speaks to a past whereby:

  • origins and producers were exploited by explorers, instigating and contributing to the slave trade for years;
  • industrialized nations seeking to dominate processing and control greater market share, sparked proxy wars with the imposition of tariffs on imports originating from colonies other than their own (present and/or former); and
  • saw industrialized nations assume a patriarchal stance that significantly limited powers and diminished the voice of producing origins (former colonies)—lost ground that would take them years to recapture.
Map of Mesoamerica – Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies (FAMSI)

The following seeks to detail cocoa’s dark past—one whose opacity perpetuated years of human rights abuses including forced and child labor. Having evolved as an industry, the following will also outline industry’s transition into an ever-increasingly transparent and responsible global industry that remains challenged by perceptions based on its past and wrestling to break free from its dark history.

Cocoa’s Sordid Past and Contribution to the Slave Trade

Spanning the Pre-Classic (2000 BCE to 300 CE) to Post Classic (900 to 1500 CE) periods, the number and diversity of explorers ballooned, ultimately leading to a dramatic shift in where and by whom cocoa was produced, as well as who (specifically which nations and companies) would profit from its trade, increasingly efficient processing, and mass manufacturing.

Due largely to voluntary and involuntary migration (i.e., the slave trade) the movement of goods and saw Theobroma cacao cultivation spread from its genetic origins of the Amazon Basin and cultural and religious roots which have been traced back to Mesoamerica (present-day Mexico through Central America) (Coe and Coe, 2013).

Global flow of goods and movement of people during the height of the slave trade.

In what is now present-day Central and South America, during the early 1500s, under the encomienda system, Spanish conquistadors were granted rights to force indigenous inhabitants to perform labor in their favor (Martin, 2019). This led to an irreparable deterioration of culture and loss of land (Martin, 2019). On the other side of the Atlantic, chattel slavery, the practice whereby people are treated as property, between 1500 and 1900, it is estimated that up to 15 million Africans were enslaved, of which 40 out of every 100 died in waiting or during transatlantic transport. In both cases, indigenous peoples were forced to cultivate cocoa while seeing little to no profit in return. In addition, favoritism played into economic positioning among industrialized nations as tariffs and quotas sought to control production and supply with demand (Leissle, 2018).

As cocoa’s production footprint broadened, applications and formulations evolved, popularity within consumer markets increased, and its importance as a traded commodity destined for processing units around the world surged.

As competition grew fiercer, regulation became an ever more critical element to ensure the crop’s viability. But most importantly, it was introduced to ensure economic stability for countries and operators who relied on the trade. This period gave rise to regulatory standards and voluntary certification programs in cocoa—both of which grew more diverse and exacting during the late 1980s present day.

Perhaps the most prolific shift, and marking industry’s acknowledgment that improvements were both possible and needed, with the enactment of the Harkin Engel Protocol in 2001, accountability, and requirements to proactively identify instances, address breakdowns, and prevent arrange of defined human rights abuses took center stage. When introduced, regulatory requirements and elements core to voluntary certification systems fundamentally changed how supply chain operators engaged producers, managed their businesses, interacted with the market, and reported.

During the same period, industry associations were established, and collective efforts launched. Among them were groups such as the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), and the Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group (CLCCG), all groups representing interests at every level from all sides.

In due course, regulations and certifications designed to promote best practices, ensure worker (producer), crop, and environmental protections, combat fraudulent claims, and ensure accurate reporting and labeling (i.e., of provenance, certification claims, production practices, quality, etc.) have improved, expanded, and been welcomed.

Adoption, adaptation, replication, and the proliferation of programs, as well as their capabilities and level of sophistication, continue to evolve rapidly. Not glued simply to factors related to compliance, conformity, or competitiveness, companies are investing significant amounts of resources to align with and exceed regulatory, consumer, and commercial standards and expectations. However, despite advances, and an elongating track record of progress and proactive effort, the industry is often chastised for not doing enough, investing enough, or sharing enough.

Stuck in the Past and Unable to Break the Cycle: The Vilification of the Cocoa Industry

Sampling of Collective Industry Efforts – Programs and Reporting

Seeking to address systemic constraints perpetuating or exacerbating breakdowns, the industry has demonstrated its willingness and ability to come to affect change.

For example, after launching, implementing, and learning from the original and subsequent iterations of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) Cocoa Livelihoods Program (CLP), after several years of complex negotiations (balancing risk, exposure, and financial implications), WCF and its member companies launched, and have developed good traction with Cocoa Action, one of several WCF initiatives designed, developed, and implemented with and through its members.[1] While they admit that it took more time to lay the groundwork that they had initially anticipated, they ultimately emerged with a thoughtful and thorough platform that continues to progress well.[2]

Additionally, since its founding in 2002, the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) has significantly influenced positive movement on all fronts concerning child labor, including the development of new tools, systems, and metrics to measure progress. This includes the consultative process that led to the development of standards for collective and individual Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS).

Recognizing that they can only harness so much, Industry has teamed with governments, international standard-setting bodies, research institutions, and others to advance efforts to combat forced and child labor, address its root causes, and improve reporting practices to bolster transparency.

Sampling of Individual Company Efforts – Programs and Reporting

Having worked inside and alongside the world’s leading cocoa companies, I recall several meetings where heads of responsible sourcing and on-the-ground activities expressed concern that not enough was being done to address the root causes. Without taking on migration, land, voting, and school registration issues, efforts would continue to face challenges. To do this, the group discussed land ownership and migratory movements of Burkinabe to Côte d’Ivoire, their inability to secure land, and in many cases, to register their children in school. While it was not the first, and certainly not the last, this was a good reminder that addressing the child labor issue was not as clear-cut as many often like to think.

Beyond programs that tighten controls, incentivize parents for producing school registration certificates, third-party certification audits that verify adherence to specific standards and practices, and collective and individual company efforts to refine and expand CLMRS, the industry continues to improve the technical scope of their programs.

The following list provides a snapshot of reports detailing global efforts to address a wide range of unique challenges faced by cocoa farming communities—including child labor. These are offered in response to comments made during the recent film screening and panel discussion “Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain.” – May 2019 Discussion

Key takeaways from the May 2019 discussion [and report] aligned with similar panels and studies that point to:

  1. The complexity and scope of the issue;
  2. range and number of actors and implications along the value chain at each stage;
  3. need for leaders, officials, and representatives from all sides (public and private), and on all levels (municipal, regional, national, and international) to work together to develop and enact responses that effectively address root causes; and
  4. calls for greater transparency.

Specific to claims around the lack of transparency and access, deficiencies noted during the discussion included the following:

  1. Visibility into supply chain monitoring plans, geographical scope, findings, and improvements; and
  2. the number, frequency, and quality of public disclosures of internal reports.

In practice, the following are evident:

  1. Companies are proactively and thoughtfully engaged in addressing child and forced labor—not merely in response to regulations or calls from consumers or international bodies;
  2. companies are leading in investments in certification programs, traceability systems, coordinating industry-wide efforts and policy formulation; and
  3. the quality and frequency of reporting are there despite claims that it is absent of lacking.
Excerpt from the Cocoa Life progress report outlining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

These are vital considerations to bear in mind when looking at the balance of what is being done, by whom, how it financed, and what is being said about those leading the way and reporting on it as appeals for greater transparency play into the vilification of cocoa companies instead of praise for their role in realizing progress.

While there is much more to bring into the frame, the above does tell speak to the other side of the story—one that is rarely shared.

Things have come a long way; however, despite grand efforts to date, many forms of forced and child labor still exist, and the number of instances of human rights violations are still far too prevalent. To that end, much more can and will continue to be done. Going forward, stakeholders must move forward together with the mindful that this is an ever-evolving and continuously improving process in terms of design, implementation, and measurement.

So while independent company activities and collective industry-wide efforts have evolved and improved with learnings over the years, there are programmatic gaps and blind spots that must be proactively and constructively addressed.

Works Cited

Casara, M., Dallabrida, P., Martin, Carla D. “Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. April 24, 2019. Film Screening and Discussion.

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. March 6, 2019. Lecture.

“Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa”. March 22, 2018. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs. Accessed April 30, 2019. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/child-labor-cocoa.

“Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa”. March 22, 2018. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs. Accessed April 30, 2019. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/child-labor-cocoa.

“Cocoa Life 2017 Progress Report”. 2017. Mondelez International. Accessed April 28, 2019. https://www.cocoalife.org/~/media/CocoaLife/en/download/article/Cocoa_Life_Progress_Report_2017.pdf.

“How We Measure Progress”. Mondelez International. Accessed April 28, 2019. https://www.cocoalife.org/impact#.

“Assessment of Forced Labor Risk in the Cocoa Sector of Côte d’Ivoire”. Verité, 2019. Accessed April 23, 2019. https://www.verite.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Verite-Report-Forced-Labor-in-Cocoa-in-CDI.pdf.

“Nestle Cocoa Plan, Tackling Child Labour 2017 Report”. Nestle. 2017. Accessed April 29, 2019. https://www.nestle.com/asset-library/documents/creating-shared-value/responsible-sourcing/nestle-cocoa-plan-child-labour-2017-report.pdf.

Picolotto, A., Giovanaz, D., Casara, J., Loth, Laura W., Lambranho, L., Casara, M., Dallabrida, P., Sabrina, R., and Kruse, T. “Cocoa Supply Chain: Advances ad Challenges Toward the Promotion of Decent Work”. 2019. International Labour Organization (ILO), Public Labour Prosecutor’s Office (MPT), Papel Social. https://cocoainitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Cocoa_EN.pdf.

“2017 Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group Annual Report”. United States Department of Labor. 2017. Accessed April 23, 2019. https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/CLCCG2017AnnualReport.pdf.

“Harkin-Engel Protocol”. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs. 2001. Accessed April 24, 2019.


“Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain: Film Screening and Discussion, Part 1” [Multimedia Video]. Retrieved from the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute YouTube Channel. April 27, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKr2_0egfzA.

“Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain: Film Screening and Discussion, Part 2” [Multimedia Video]. Retrieved from the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute YouTube Channel. April 27, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKr2_0egfzA.

“Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS) in the Société Coopérative Ivoirienne du Négoce des Produits Agricoles (SCINPA) Cooperative”. Olam International. 2017.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd Edition, Thames & Hudson, 2013.

[1] Initiatives, World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), https://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/initiatives/

[2] CocoaAction 2017: What We Have Learned, World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), https://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/2017cocoaactiondata/

From Exploitation to Empowerment: Reforming the Labor Practices in the Cocoa Industry

There has been a long history of European powers using exploitative practices in order to build wealth. These practices stemmed from the notion that individuals of a darker skin tone were inferior and less refined than those from Europe and white ancestry in general. This hierarchical system created by the Western world influenced how Europeans approached their interactions with the indigenous people in the Americas and African populations. Due to their cultural and racial differences, both of these groups of people were trapped into forced labor systems, where they had no rights and were given no compensation. The result was two-fold: Native Americans died at alarming rates from disease and harsh working conditions and Africans, while not affected as heavily by disease, were continually exploited and were exposed to the most inhumane conditions and treatment in the history of the Americas. Even though slavery has been legally abolished across the world for over 100 years, it produced a lasting residual effect on prevailing labor practices across the African continent. These exploitative practices have led to cacao farmers being paid pennies compared to the billions of dollars in profits that American and European companies are making from the cacao plant and cheap labor. In addition, child labor has continued to be a common practice that has not been abolished, due to the fact that African farmers cannot afford to pay their workers substantive wages. A few bean-to-bar chocolate companies have recognized these issues and have made strides to institute practices that reverse the trend of exploitation of African farmers. In particular, Divine Chocolate, a chocolate company headquartered in Washington D.C., has taken meaningful steps to evaluate how their practices can mirror the ethical standards of fair trade and non-exploitative business transactions.

The existence of modern slavery, pertaining to the production of cacao, is centered around the exploitative practices that took root in São Tomé and Príncipe in the early 1900s. Slaves from Angola were sent to São Tomé and Príncipe and were stationed on the Portuguese plantations that were scattered across the islands. Amanda Berlan states, “Anti-Slavery International (2004) reports that the use of slaves from Angola was common on Portuguese plantations on the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe from the 1880s; according to Clarence-Smith, forced labour in cocoa production continued there until 1962” (1092). While the rest of the world assumed that slavery had been completely abolished, it was very much a part of the everyday culture in São Tomé and Príncipe, mainly because of the growing demand for chocolate all around the world, and the fact that the infrastructure of the islands lent itself to a plantation system. As Lowell Satre describes, “There were about 230 rocas (plantations) on São Tomé and 50 on Príncipe, some owned by individuals, others held by corporations” (10). While the economies of São Tomé and Príncipe were dependent on the production of cacao, Angola’s economy also benefited from these islands’ demand for free labor. However, Angolans were not all keen to the idea of slavery, and some of the native Angolans that potentially were not opposed to the institution of slavery itself were convinced that Angola needed the labor for economic development rather than São Tomé and Príncipe. Satre states, “Though some were disturbed over the institution of slavery, many in Angola complained that labor essential for the development of the province was going to instead create wealth for rich plantation owners on the islands” (8). For the rest of the world, the reality of the continuance of slavery was hidden from the public eye until large corporations that specialized in chocolate became exposed.

Angolans who were forced into slavery in São Tomé and Príncipe.

Source: “São Tomé and Príncipe.” Rhodes House Archive.

Many of the largest chocolate corporations like Cadbury were buying cacao beans at ridiculously low prices in Africa, and Cadbury in particular was purchasing a significant amount of cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe. According to William A. Cadbury, the company had no idea that the cacao beans it was buying came from slave labor. Satre states, “In early 1901, when William A. Cadbury visited Trinidad…he was told that slave labor was used on the island of São Tomé. Shortly thereafter, this unsubstantiated comment was given credence when the Cadbury company received an offer of a plantation for sale in São Tomé that listed as assets two hundred black laborers” (18). Cadbury’s exposure to these exploitative practices was massive; the company bought 45 percent of its cacao beans from São Tomé each year, confirming that almost half of Cadbury’s revenue was obtained via slave labor. In addition, the details of the offer for the plantation give insight into the scope and magnitude of slavery in São Tomé, given that the island had 230 plantations with thousands of slaves in total. The written work of Henry Nevinson and Joseph Burtt were two of the first forms of documentation that depicted the coerced labor in São Tomé and Príncipe to be distributed across the globe. As a result, many British corporations in the chocolate industry boycotted the cacao in São Tomé and Príncipe and searched for a new area that would supply large amounts of cacao for low prices. All eyes turned towards Ghana, which was then referred to as the Gold Coast, and Côte d’Ivoire.

One of Cadbury Chocolate’s advertisements, which depicts the exploitative practices used for cacao production in West Africa.

Source: “Cadbury’s Cocoa Essence.” Cadbury Chocolate.

Even though production of cacao grew significantly during the early 1900s, initially, most cacao farming was small scale; however, when the production of cacao in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire grew at an almost exponential rate, both countries grappled with their own issues surrounding the quality of working conditions. Various aspects of cacao production included clearing the trees, planting the cacao seeds, spraying fertilizers and pesticides, transporting the cacao pods, and slicing open the cacao pods. These duties were completed in environment that proved to be hazardous and dangerous for even adults. The cacao farmers suffered from various diseases, injuries, burns, and lacerations, coupled with the fact that many of them did not have access to clean water, food, or cleaning spaces. Not only did cacao farmers have to work in hazardous conditions, but they also received extremely low wages, which were subject to unpredictable fluctuations throughout each year. The income of each farmer was directly tied to that year’s profits. These farms were being exploited by the major chocolate corporations in Europe and the United States, receiving less than a penny on every dollar these companies made selling chocolate. Given the exploitative power dynamic between companies and farms, farmers were drastically affected financially: each farmer only received a very small percentage of each farm’s revenue. Carol Off states, “By the end of the millennium, Côte d’Ivoire was one of the most indebted nations on earth, even as it supplied almost half of the world’s cocoa to the multi-billion-dollar industry and helped to satisfy the world’s addiction to chocolate. Cocoa farmers slid deeper and deeper into poverty” (118).

The use of child labor for cacao production in Côte d’Ivoire.

Source: Lowy, Benjamin.”Young Boy Uses a Machete to Break Cacao Pods.” Fortune.

The low and inconsistent wage that adult farmers received was one of the main reasons child labor became commonplace in both Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Low and inconsistent wages meant that families were forced to remove their children from school to provide the additional income they needed to live at a subsistence level. As Ryan describes, “One interviewee in a British documentary suggested that as many as 90 percent of Ivorian farms used slave labor. This implied there were hundreds of thousands of slaves in Côte d’Ivoire. A BBC report suggested that 15,000 children were in slavery on these plantations” (48). The statistics pertaining to child labor reveal how central it was to the production of cacao. Children working on cacao plantations were at a greater risk than the adult farmers: “hazardous work…is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. On the cocoa plantation, this is generally defined to include work which involves dangerous machinery, equipment or tools, the handling of heavy loads and exposure to pesticides or chemicals” (Ryan, 48). Children started working and dropping out of school at a very young age and were exposed to tasks that were dangerous for adults to perform. Child labor was essential to the production of cacao and children were very active in all of forms of work in the field. Berlan states, “Of children aged 5–17 years, 39 percent are known to be engaged in economic activities, of which 57 percent are engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing and 88 percent are unpaid family labour or apprentices” (1090). In addition to the risky activities that children took part in on the cacao plantations, some of them were placed under physical duress by their superiors; this violence put a strain on the children physically, socially, and emotionally. Off’s account provides an example of how child labor was connected to the emergence of child trafficking: “The farmers, or their supervisors, were working the young people almost to death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunk-houses that were locked during the 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” (121). Children from areas surrounding the cacao plantations and even in neighboring countries were at risk to be kidnapped and forced to produce cacao. Ryan states, “Traffickers preyed on children at bus stops in Mali, promising riches on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire. Once children got to the farm, they survived on little food, little or no pay and endured regular beatings” (44). These conditions that children had to endure are correlative to the experiences of slaves. Children were separated from their families, forced to work for long periods of time, and stripped of their own dignity while they were still in the developmental phase of their lives. Ryan states, “There were no chains and no irons, but, unable to leave their place of work, they were effectively slaves, harvesting the beans that were the key ingredient for chocolate” (44). Slavery continued to persist and it arose due to the demand of the American and European populations and the greed of the large chocolate corporations that desired to obtain the highest possible profit.

The inhumane conditions that children were forced to work in.

Source: “Child Slavery.” The Independent.

Given these horrific work conditions, government policies and initiatives were created to combat the inhumane treatment of the adult and child farmers. The International Labour Organization set standards of appropriate labor practices and detailed the worst forms of child labor. Even though these standards sent a message that child labor was not acceptable, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire were and have remained in violation of them. In fact, over 500,000 children in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire were in violation of the guidelines set by the International Labour Organization. Policies were also put in place with the goal of eventually eradicating the worst forms of child labor and coerced labor in the world. One of the policies is the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which is a voluntary agreement that included governments, chocolate companies, cocoa farmers, and other entities. Off states, “The Harkin-Engel Protocol…would be one of the first fully voluntary arrangements for regulating industry in U.S. history and certainly the most ambitious. The cocoa companies agreed to accept a six-point program designed to eliminate child slave labour in the cocoa chain” (144). In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the goal of the protocol was to diminish the worst forms of child labor by 70 percent by 2015. However, this goal was not achieved, so the deadline was extended to 2020. Various organizations, such as the International Cocoa Initiative and the International Cocoa Organization, have been created to further the mission of the Harkin-Engel Protocol: reduce the worst forms of child labor and forced labor. The International Cocoa Initiative raises awareness around the experiences of children enduring through the harsh working conditions that accompany the production of the cacao plant. It also administers trainings on child labor and the impact it has on the communities in West Africa, working closely with all entities that interact within the world of cacao production and consumption. The International Cocoa Organization serves both cacao consuming and producing countries, allowing for meditation and the recognition of collective interests. In addition to the creation of international initiatives and organizations, major corporations in the chocolate industry have pledged to become more socially responsible regarding their business transactions with cacao farmers. Many corporations have received certifications and label their products as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance Certified, Utz Certified, etc. in order to emphasize to consumers their adoption of new practices.

Goals established by the Harkin-Engel Protocol.

Source: “Eliminating Child Labor from Cocoa.” United States Department of Labor.

Divine Chocolate is a chocolate company that has exceeded the efforts of many other major chocolate corporations to improve labor conditions. Divine Chocolate partnered with a co-operative of farmers in Ghana called Kuapa Kokoo, which has significant autonomy over the trading and selling processes of the cacao it produces. Unlike most co-operatives, Kuapa Kokoo actually owns a large percentage of the shares of Divine Chocolate: “Divine Chocolate is the only Fairtrade chocolate company that is also co-owned by cocoa farmers. Kuapa Kokoo farmers benefit not only from the Fairtrade premium on the sale of their beans, but also receive the largest share (44%) of Divine’s distributable profits giving the farmers more economic stability, as well as the increased influence in the cocoa industry” (Divine Chocolate). Instead of cacao farmers receiving less than a penny on every dollar of profit from their product, the members of Kuapa Kokoo are able to increase their income at a rate that far exceeds all other cacao collectives in Ghana. As a result, the farmers are able to live with more stability and begin the process of building wealth. Because the low wage that cacao farmers in Ghana were paid was a central cause of the industry’s heavy dependence on child’s labor, the adoption of this new framework, which raised wages, gave farmers the necessary resources to do without child labor entirely. Because Divine Chocolate is Fairtrade Certified, it empowers the cacao producers by establishing a minimum price for the products they produce and a premium for the products that are sold. Each of these reforms of the Fairtrade system give cacao farmers the ability to improve their living standards, their business, and their community (Divine Chocolate). Another important aspect of Divine Chocolate’s mission is its focus on women’s empowerment: “Projects supported by the [Producer Support and Development Fund] are aimed particularly at empowerment of women, maintaining good governance, and testing different farming techniques — and include an adult literacy and numeracy program, and a model farm project” (Divine Chocolate). Divine Chocolate recognizes the significant role that women play in the production of cacao in Ghana and aims to equip them with the tools to become better professional leaders and more advanced business people. With these ambitious programs and practices, Divine Chocolate is actively trying to revolutionize the cocoa industry. Unlike many large chocolate corporations, which are mainly concerned with how much profit they attain at the end of each quarter, Divine Chocolate has proactively addressed issues surrounding exploitation of African farmers, child labor, forced labor, and the silencing of women’s voices in the cocoa industry. In addition, Divine Chocolate has made an active effort to ensure that the farmers that produce cacao for Divine Chocolate are not only rewarded but are included in the process of building wealth and economic stability. There is more work to be done, but Divine Chocolate has been one of the companies to lead the way in changing the culture of business and chocolate.

Divine Chocolate’s commitment to women’s empowerment.

Source: “Women Cocoa Farmers: Hear Our Voice.” Divine Chocolate.

Works Cited:

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies. vol. 49, no. 8, Feb. 2013, pp. 1088-1100.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet, New York, The New Press, pp. 1-336.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa, London, Zed Books, 2011, pp. 1-175.

Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trail: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, Athens, Ohio University Press, pp. 1-199.

“Cadbury’s Cocoa Essence.” Cadbury Chocolate.

“Child Slavery.” The Independent.

Divine Chocolate, Divine Chocolate Limited, http://www.divinechocolate.com/us/about-us

“Eliminating Child Labor from Cocoa.” United States Department of Labor.

Lowy, Benjamin.”Young Boy Uses a Machete to Break Cacao Pods.” Fortune. Brian O’Keefe. 1 Mar. 2016.

“São Tomé and Príncipe.” Rhodes House Archive.

“Women Cocoa Farmers: Hear Our Voice.” Divine Chocolate.