Tag Archives: child trafficking

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.

Cardullo’s Chocolate

At Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe in Cambridge, Massachusetts there is an extensive selection of chocolate. In fact, the offerings cover an entire wall of the store and are split up into 5 sections. Upon inspection of the makeup of the selection of Cardullo’s chocolate, it is apparent that several groups of sections are broadly representative of certain types of chocolate. It further becomes apparent that the categories of chocolate one finds in Cardullo’s progresses from the front to the back of the store as follows: luxury chocolate, bean to bar craft manufactured chocolate, cheap and common chocolate. I will examine the brands representative of each of these categories at Cardullo’s and identify that luxury chocolate brands offer brand name and popular flavoring, bean to bar brands offer ethical supply chains, and that common chocolate offer the lowest prices. As such, Cardullo’s commitment to being a “gourmet” shop reveals the word “gourmet” can have many meanings in the world of chocolate. Gourmet chocolate can have to do with brand recognition as luxurious, or with being an ethically committed niche craft maker, or as being in line with popular tastes.

            There are complex ethical concerns involved with cacao production, most importantly regarding child labor and unsustainable living conditions for cacao farmers. The center of these ethical issues is West Africa. There is considerable evidence that cacao production in West Africa has used and continues to use child labor (Berlan, 1089). Child labor on farms in West Africa was first brought to attention by reports of such slavery in 2000 (Ryan, 44). Orla Ryan in Chocolate Nationdescribes,

“Traffickers preyed on children at bus stops in Mali, promising riches on cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire. Once children got to the farm, they survived on little food, little or no pay and endured regular beatings…. They were essentially slaves, harvesting the beans that were the key ingredient for chocolate” (Ryan, 44).

Given the evidence provided to the public the Harkin-Engel protocol was introduced, which was a voluntary agreement among chocolate manufacturers to end child labor. However, Ryan asserts that “nearly a decade later, very little has changed on the farm” (Ryan, 44). 

            Although the use of children on farms in West Africa is prevalent, it has been argued that this is in fact necessary and part of the culture. Ryan spoke with a Ghanaian buyer who asserted “In an African household, everyone contributes to the family’s welfare, a Ghanaian buyer told me. He had accompanied his mother to the farm from the age of 5” (Ryan, 45-46).  Amanda Berlan articulates that “In the broader context of Ghanaian society, child labour is well-documented. Of children aged 5–17 years, 39 per cent are known to be engaged in economic activities, of which 57 per cent are engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing and 88 per cent are unpaid family labour or apprentices” (Berlan, 1090). This is a framing of child labor as “apprenticeship,” rather than slavery. However, it remains that children do not really have a choice in these situations. If their parents require them to work on the farm and learn the business, the children are not in a position to pursue other options. Further, this can be argued to be a manipulation of facts from remote areas to advance interests not aligned with the interests of those who live there (Off, 160). Even if this is true, however, there is the necessity of improving these farming communities in general. As Ryan notes,  “It is also doubtful a boycott of slave-produced beans would make matters better. A ban on beans from the region would devastate millions of families reliant on cocoa to survive. These kinds of threats or bans, however well-intentioned, can backfire dramatically” (Ryan, 51-52). As such, a rejection of West African producers should not occur, especially for bean to bar chocolate manufacturers. Kristy Leissle aptly asserts,

Certainly media attention to slavery allegations makes it easy for consumers to reject West Africa as a ‘‘safe’’ source of chocolate. But when artisans or mid-size companies (such as Tcho) offer a bar from West Africa, they apparently can generate significant sales. As Tcho has proven with its best-selling Ghana bar, and Divine with its entire product line, West Africa bars can be successfully sold in the U.S.—provided the maker has already inspired trust with a clear statement of its social mission” (Leissle, 29).

West African cacao can be used responsibly, even given its history. In fact, it is necessary that manufacturers involve themselves with these farming areas in order to help them benefit and grow, rather than harming their economic situation further. As such, policies of fair trade and direct trade have developed in which chocolate producers are directly involved in the sustainability of the cacao growing communities. It is in this context of ethical issues within the cacao supply chain that we will examine the chocolate companies offered at Cardullo’s and compare how ethical commitments within the chocolate manufacturers align with price and brand recognition as well as how these relationships affect placement within the store.

            The first section of Cardullo’s chocolate selection, closest to the storefront is a collection of luxury (i.e. recognizable brand and highly priced) chocolate companies. However, these companies are variable in their ethical commitments. Here we can see the sections we are talking about:

The most prevalent company in all of Cardullo’s selection is Godiva. Godiva chocolates are allocated four shelves in the store. The offerings are mainly boxes of a variety of chocolate truffles. These boxes go for a high price of $20 – 40 each. Godiva had successfully branded itself as a luxury brand, as we can see in this advertisement.  

The use of gold and wine associates Godiva with a luxurious existence. Godiva’s cacao, however is sourced from West Africa, the center of the child labor matters. Nonetheless, on Godiva’s website, they describe that they are a member of the World Cocoa Foundation, a leading nonprofit that fosters sustainable farms, strengthening the cacao farming communities. They write, “Godiva believes that protecting children is a shared responsibility across the cocoa industry… We have a policy that requires all of our suppliers to be in compliance with applicable labor laws and regulations.” Yet, Godiva received an F from Green America’s evaluation of their supply chain ethics. This was due to their having no labor certifications and none of their cacao having been certified as ethically sourced to date even though they have a promise to be 100% certified by 2019.

            There are two other brands, Neuhaus, and Chocolat Bonnat, that appear to fit into the same category as Godiva, that is, highly priced (and thus luxury items) and not apparently or fully committed to pursuing an ethical supply chain. Most similar to Godiva, Neuhaus is given  three shelves in the store and also is mainly boxes of mixed chocolates. These boxes sell for $40-70 and as such can be characterized as luxury items. Further, on the Neuhaus website there is an emphasis on the deep history of the company. This history tracks its ups and downs as well as innovations. However, there is no suggestion of concern with supply chain ethics. Chocolat Bonnat has two shelves in Cardullo’s and offers bars of dark chocolate sourced from different areas for around $12. Although their cacao beans are sourced from areas that haven’t been hubs of child labor (e.g. Mexico, Peru, Madagascar, Brazil), there is nonetheless no mention of ethical concerns on their website. Like Neuhaus, they have an extensive history of the company. They also have a seven minute video on the process and soul of cacao harvest, but not mention of the moral issues that accompany that harvest. 

            There are however, luxury priced chocolate brands that reveal concern for the ethical supply chain in the Cardullo’s selection: Butlers, Castronova, and Milkboy. Butlers is represented by only a couple of bars in Cardullo’s, which sell for $22 and thus are luxury items. Butlers, on their website articulates, “We use sustainably sourced cacao through Cocoa Horizons because we believe that sustainably sourced cocoa makes for better chocolates and better livelihoods for the farmers who grow and nurture it.” In fact, in 2018 the chairman of Butlers went to meet with women that they had been empowering in these communities by training them in the techniques of growing cacao on the Ivory Coast, exhibiting a commitment to the improvement of these communities. Castronova is another brand priced in a luxury range of $15 for a bar. This chocolate is made from Colombian cacao beans, likely separated from child labor issues. As the founders write on their website,   

“We salute the few, craft chocolate makers that are taking time and care with each part of the chocolate making process, releasing the full potential of the bean; those who are supporting careful farming and fermentation, the ones who ensure farmers are paid a fair wage through an ethical and sustainable supply chain, and those who skillfully grind, roast, and sweeten without diluting the bean’s essence.”

Milkboy chocolate also falls under this category with bars priced at $20. Milkboy chocolate is UTZ certified, which requires good agricultural practices, social and living conditions, and farm management. This certification requires investment in farming practices that aid individuals at all stages of the supply chain, ensuring better futures for the cacao farming communities.  

            The next section, located one step further toward the back of the store, is composed of bean to bar chocolate manufacturers as well as Fairtrade and Direct Trade certified manufacturuers. Here we can see the sections we are speaking about:

Bean to bar means that the companies are fully involved in every step of the creation of their chocolate, from the growth of the beans to the manufacturing process. The main bean to bar brands in these sections are Fossa, Antidote, and Taza. Fossa is a bean to bar craft chocolate maker priced around $13 for a bar. Taza likewise is a bean to bar manufacturer priced around $5 for a bar. Finally, Antidote is a bean to bar manufacturer priced at around $10 per bar. We can note a symmetry here between bean to bar companies and Direct Trade certified companies. Antidote, a bean to bar manufacturer claims they practice direct trade, writing on their website, “Prioritizing quality and flavor over certification allows us to foster direct relationships without Ecuadorian partners and pay them wages that are far above market rate. We are practicing direct trade with all cacao beans and some other ingredients cutting our any middleman.” Taza likewise is Direct Trade certified. The alignment between direct trade and bean to bar is that direct trade is focused on the quality of the beans. And, as Antidote succinctly explains, this focus forces the manufacturer to be closely involved with the farming communities it sources from. This intimacy leads to a care and necessary ethical unveiling of the harvesting process. Note that these companies tend to have a lower price point as well.

            The other ethical certification is the Fairtrade certification, which is an explicit commitment to bettering the farming communities. The companies in this section that have this certification are Chuao and Pure 7. The Fairtrade certification ensures safe, healthy working conditions for cacao farmers as well as bettering the communities they live in. Chuao articulates that part of the additional income they make goes back to the farming communities to invest in education and healthcare.  These also sell at a lower price point, Chuao at $6 a bar and Pure 7 at $5 a bar.

            The final category of chocolate at Cardullo’s is the cheaper and common chocolates, such as Kinder and Milka. Here we see this section:

Both of these cholate producers offer milk chocolate that is highly sweetened, appealing to the common appeal of sweet soothing chocolate candy. They also both sell for about $2 a bar. Now, both of these companies have some sort of ethical commitment. Kinder is UTZ certified, part of the Fairtrade cocoa program, and also Rainforest Alliance certified. Milka is part of the Cocoa life sustainable sourcing program. Thus, these mass producing and popular manufacturers do not sacrifice ethical sourcing in their production.

            Cardullo’s we have examined the central three categories offered: luxury, bean to bar and Fairtrade certified, and cheaper, common candy. Within the luxury category, there is a mix of ethically bound and non-ethically bound companies. The bean to bar and Fairtrade certified are necessarily ethically bound. Finally, the common candy chocolates are also ethically bound. Given this variation in price and ethical commitment, it appears Cardullo’s is not taking a strong stand on what “gourmet” chocolate is. They offer to their consumer the option of viewing gourmet as expensive, as ethical, or as simply tasty. Indeed, the luxury items are toward the front of the store, but this does not imply a judgement on what is important, but more common business sense to have the more expensive items more prevalent. Nonetheless, Cardullo’s wide variety of ethically sourced chocolate products is impressive and aids in exposing consumers to the possibility of chocolate that is produced via an ethical supply chain, aiding in the issues that face chocolate production today. 

Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” Journal of Development Studies, vol 49, 2013, . pp. 1088-1100. 

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica, vol. 13, no. 3, 2013, pp. 22–31.JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. London: Zed, 2011. Print.

Off, Caroline. Bitter Chocolate : the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York :New Press, 2008. Print.

Child Labor and the Cacao Trade – the Dark Side of Chocolate

Chocolate has frequently been referred to as the, “Food of the God’s”. For chocolate lovers, the thought of this creamy rich confection invokes an emotion (or passion if you will) that makes it an essential part of the daily diet. Some, consuming it multiple times a day. We give chocolate as gifts for special occasions and profess our affection through ornate heart shaped boxes full of the decadent treat. According to an analysis conducted by MarketsandMarkets, the global cocoa and chocolate market is projected to be worth nearly $133.8 Billion combined in 2019 (MarketsandMarkets, 2014) . But what is the true price of chocolate commerce? For some, it comes at a great cost, specifically the child laborer’s who work on cacao plantations in West Africa. While many chocolate manufacturer’s and worldwide humanitarian organizations have made great strides in spotlighting the issues of child labor, slavery, and trafficking – there is a long way to go. The dark side of chocolate has far reaching repercussions that stretch far beyond the guilty calories in your Valentine’s day Whitman’s Sampler.

What has history taught us?

For centuries, children have been used as slaves in the cacao trade. As a matter of fact, forced child labor has been recorded as far back as the 1800’s in cacao harvesting and cocoa production (Sackett, 84) . The True History of Chocolate elucidates that the ethics of the chocolate trade have been flawed for too long. In their authoritative book, Coe and Coe enlighten us that the countries most involved in this shameful practice are the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) and Ghana – which (coincidentally?) are the top two cacao producing countries in the world. Here, millions of children have been trafficked over time to work “under terrible conditions… suffering from [the negative effects of] powerful pesticides…cutting themselves with the machetes that they must wield to open the pods.” (Coe and Coe, 264) Tragically, these children also lack quality medical care and schooling to better their health and to increase the potential for a better life.

Despite the cacao trade bourgeoning into a multi-billion-dollar industry, we cannot help but have a bitter taste in our mouth for the still sub-standard labor ethics employed in West Africa.

The problem cannot be ignored!

The cacao plantation is no place for a child. Organizations such as the Food Empowerment Project and Green America are putting their time, energy and alliances behind the efforts to not only reduce the use of child labor – but to educate chocolate consumers on the horrific standards of the cacao industry. By labeling the use of children in the cacao commodity growing industry, “The Worst Form of Child Labor” the Food Empowerment Project claims that “in recent years, a handful of organizations and journalists have exposed the widespread use of child labor, and in some cases slavery, on cocoa farms in Western Arica. Since then, the industry has become increasingly secretive, making it difficult for reporters to not only access farms where human rights violations still occur, but to then disseminate this information to the public.” By calling our attention to the companies that take advantage of the largest supply of cocoa and making a direct connection to the child slavery problem, the FEP specifically names Hershey, Mars and Nestle as those that who should have the guiltiest conscience in the chocolate trade. Green America goes one step further by publishing a “Chocolate Scorecard” to illustrate to consumers the performance of chocolate manufacturers, taking into consideration rather or not they “have innovative programs and projects in place to address some of the underlying issues of child labor in cocoa.”

The BIG question….

By now, you may have a bitter taste in your mouth and should be asking yourself “What can I do to help.” For many chocolate consumers, it is enough to bite into our favorite Endangered Species or Alter Ego brand chocolate bars and have a clear conscience – feeling that we are doing SOMETHING by choosing what we deem to be an ethically sourced confectionery. For others, we are angry and want to do something immediately that will change the trajectory in a more positive direction. So, what do you do? Perhaps you will pay more for a chocolate bar that’s packaging convinces you that the proceeds are going to help reduce child labor, slavery, or trafficking? Or perhaps you will emphatically denounce any chocolate grown in this region of the world and refuse to patronize any brand not making the grade on the “Chocolate Scorecard”? As Kristy Leissle points out in her thoughtful book Cocoa, the “oft-suggested idea of charging more for chocolate to ease farmer poverty reverses typical cause and effect, whereby higher cocoa prices drive higher chocolate prices.” (Leissle, 136) . Simply put– when the price of cocoa goes up, these farming regions are even more attractive due to the low labor rates; doing nothing more than increasing profit for chocolate makers. And for those of you that are done stomping your feet in remonstration, according to Leissle, “buying only cocoa from outside West Africa would do more harm than good” (Leissle, 136) as you would be punishing hard working West Africans that are dependent on the cacao trade for their livelihood.

What you CAN do….

The good news is that there are many ways to support the cacao kids that are losing their childhood to the chocolate industry. A few things you CAN do are:

• Become a more conscientious consumer by educating yourself on the issue and the actions being taken to combat them. There are numerous organizations fighting every day and your donation or activism are appreciated.

• Shop at retailers that support brands that are working to reduce child labor in the cacao trade. If you are unsure if your favorite store or market is making choices that you are aligned with in selecting their chocolate inventory – do not be afraid to ask. Many retailers have category managers that are well versed on what their store carries and why. If their selection is unsatisfactory, chocolate may not be the only category that they do not measure up in the area of ethics.

• Think global but act local. Talk to your State Representative about their agenda for reducing child labor as it relates to trade facilitation and trade enforcement. A sweet not bitter ending…. The “Food of the God’s” does not need to come at the cost of innocent lives in West Africa. Though chocolate has been studied academically and discussed politically, there are still significant gaps that each and every one of us can contribute to closing. So, the next time that you pick up your favorite chocolate confection, may the guilt be only on your lips and on your hips.

A sweet not bitter ending….

The “Food of the God’s” does not need to come at the cost of innocent lives in West Africa. Though chocolate has been studied academically and discussed politically, there are still significant gaps that each and every one of us can contribute to closing. So, the next time that you pick up your favorite chocolate confection, may the guilt be only on your lips and on your hips.

Works Cited

Balch, Oliver. “Child Labour: the Dark Truth behind Chocolate Production.” Raconteur, Raconteur Media Ltd., 22 June 2018, http://www.raconteur.net/business-innovation/child-labour-cocoa-production.  https://www.raconteur.net/business-innovation/child-labour-cocoa-production

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

H, Lily. “Child Labor In The Chocolate Industry.” YouTube, YouTube, 9 Feb. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5a63Pwkuvg.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5a63Pwkuvg

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

“Cocoa & Chocolate Market.” Market Research Firm, MarketsandMarkets, Aug. 2014, http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/cocoa-chocolate.asp.  https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/cocoa-chocolate.asp

“End Child Labor in Cocoa.” Green America, http://www.greenamerica.org/end-child-labor-cocoa.  https://www.greenamerica.org/end-child-labor-cocoa

“Home.” Food Empowerment Project, foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/.  https://foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/

There is No Pleasure in Guilty Chocolate!

Why do you love chocolate? Because it is good! It tastes good and makes you happy. It is all that is good in the world wrapped in a beautiful candy bar. What if you learned that your delicious candy bar is a by-product of something bad, the output of someone else’s suffering?  A child’s suffering? Would you enjoy it just the same? Eating is not just a means to satisfy hunger; it is also an emotional and psychological experience.  We like to eat, and we like to eat good food without any negative connotations. Chocolate does not taste as good when it is served with a side of guilt. Chocolate tastes better when you wholeheartedly know that it came from a good place and produced in an ethical and social responsible manner.

Did you know that the global chocolate industry is nearly $100 billion dollars a year? The United States alone spends a little over 18 billion dollars in chocolate (2015), and that the average American consumes approximately 4.3 kilograms / 9.5 pounds of chocolate a year (2015). In comparison, beating the Americans at chocolate consumption are the Swiss who consume approximately a little over 9 kilograms / 20 pounds per person, then tied for second place are the Germans and the Austrians who approximately consume 3.6 kilograms / 7.4 pounds per person (Satioquia-Tan). Chocolate can be found anywhere around the world and is affordable to the masses especially to those who live in the developed world. Chocolate can be found in candy bars, truffles, fudge, cakes, muffins, biscuits, breakfast cereals, pancakes, health bars, sauces, drinks, in your café mocha, and anywhere you can sprinkle chocolate syrup. You can buy it in a specialty shop, supermarket, mini-market, drugstore, or any corner street gas station.

The majority of chocolate eaters are rather naïve in knowing the history and the current nature of the chocolate-making business. They simply eat it because they love chocolate without really knowing what it is, where it comes from, who makes and how; or any related social issues. For those consumers who are more aware of the social and economic impacts of the chocolate industry are a little more selective in choosing and enjoying their chocolate. To fully appreciate food is to experience it through all the possible senses, the physiological and psychological (Stuckey 13). Only twenty percent of what we physiologically taste happens in our mouths, the rest of the tasting experience happens through our remaining senses of sight, smell, touch, and sound. We, also, want to psychologically feel good about what we are eating. We want to know about the origins, the farming practices, and the ethics of what we are tasting (Stuckey 14). We want to know the context, the beautiful story, of what we are eating so we can enjoy it fully. The other option is to choose to remain a little ignorant of the subject as not to sour our chocolate taste, however this pleasure would be more superficial and would not represent the fullest appreciation of what we are eating. To fully appreciate today’s chocolate, we will have to fully experience it with the body and mind in full awareness of its origins, present journey and social impacts.

  1. What is Chocolate?

Cocoa is the main ingredient for all chocolate recipes.  Cocoa derives from cacao seeds, or more commonly referred to as cacao beans, which grow on the Theobroma Cacao tree.  Cacao trees are finicky trees that can only bear fruit in hot and humid tropical climates,twenty degrees from the equator at a specific altitude. These trees are highly dependent on midges, an insect, for its flowers to pollinate and bear fruit (Coe and Coe 19-21, 27). Cacao beans grow inside a fruity, pulp filled pod, approximately 30-40 beans grow inside one pod. Unlike most trees, where fruit grow dangling down from branches, cacao pods sprout directly from the tree trunk. In raw form, cacao beans constitute half its size in fat, cocoa butter. When cocoa butter is extracted from the cacao bean, what remains is the cocoa (or cocoa powder), the main ingredient of all chocolate (Coe and Coe 27). Before cacao beans turn into chocolate, cacao fruit is first farmed.  Upon harvest, fruit pods are removed from trees and cracked open to extract its beans with machetes. Cacao beans are then fermented, dried, sorted, roasted, transported, winnowed (deshelled), ground to a liquor, pressed (to remove the cacao butter), conched, and then what remains is added to chocolate-making recipes. Chocolate is the result of a labor intensive and highly processed food.

  1. Where Does Cacao Come From?

Cacao is native to the New World, the South American’s amazon basin region (Coe and Coe 25), and the Mesoamerican native cultures of the Mayans and Aztecs and predecessors were the first peoples to ever make chocolate dating back as far as 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe 33). Cacao was precious and a sacred food reserved for the elite, special occasions, and sacred rituals. Mayan and Aztecs Gods often appear alongside or in the form of cacao trees in their native hieroglyphs and surviving art (Coe and Coe 42). So precious, cacao beans were even used as a means of monetary currency. In 1545, documented is the commodity price of a tamale: one tamale equals one cacao bean (Coe and Coe 98-99). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish conquistadors were the first Europeans to discover and spread the taste of chocolate to Europe starting in the 1500’s (Coe and Coe 108). At the beginning of the chocolate history in Europe, chocolate was rare, expensive, and for the upper class.  Then as time passed and soon after the industrial revolution, chocolate became relatively common and affordable to the masses.

Amazon Basin
Amazon basin (based on Wikipedia, Amazon basin article, by Kmusser, using Digital Chart of the Word and GTOPO data)

After the end of the American colonial period, in the late 1800’s, the Spanish and the Portuguese introduced cacao to West Africa. Due to favorable climate conditions, cacao flourished in West Africa.  Today, approximately seventy percent of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa (Wessel and Quist-Wessel 1). The Ivory Coast and Ghana are the two major countries that supply cacao.  There are 2 million, small (3 hectares acres in size), independent farms (Ryan 52) in West Africa that supply three million metric tons of cacao per year (World Cocoa Foundation).

2000px-Ghana_Côte_d'Ivoire_Locator.svg
West Africa, Ivory Coast depicted in orange and Ghana  depicted in green (based on Wikipedia, Ghana-Ivory Coast Relations article)

  1. What Are the Social Issues Involving the Chocolate Industry?

Since the first Europeans, the Spanish conquistadors, landed in the New World, the cacao industry has been tainted with slavery and forced labor since 1650’s (Berlan 1092). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish forced the natives to pay tribute in labor and cacao to their new Spanish Crown.  After millions of natives died of diseases, the Spanish, like other colonists in the Americas, resorted to using chattel slavery from Africa to extract New World resources (Presilla 24, 33). Chattel slavery officially ended in 1884, however it continued in disguise in Portuguese West Africa well into the 1900’s in the cacao industry and some reports state that it persisted until 1962 (Berlan 1092).

Today, cacao farmer incomes are very volatile for it depends on operating profits, and since cacao is a commodity, the market price.  Farmers need to sell their cacao at a high enough price in order to pay off their operation expenses which includes labor, a major expense, just like most businesses. Unexpected operating expenses and / or a fall in market price can be devastating on farmer revenues/incomes. Cacao farmers, per capita, constantly live without the security of a reliable living wage. In 2015, cacao farmers earned 50 to 84 cents on the American dollar a day (Cocoabarometer). As it is, cacao farmers barely break even, and there is little economic incentive for them to stay in the cacao farming business.  Due to local poverty and lack of other options, farmers continue to grow cacao under pressure to lower operating costs and often resort to desperate means to make a profit, break even, or just enough to pay for rice and cooking oil (Off 5).

In more recent history in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, a wave of newspaper stories and documentary films exposed the existence of child labor, trafficking, and slaves in West African cacao farms which caused much consumer outrage. The media graphically showed the world the extreme poverty and hard lives of cacao farmers in West Africa and the desperate measures farmers take to lower operating costs by using child slave labor (Berlan 1089).

The documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation (2000), especially shocked viewers by showing how easy it was to find child slaves working on cacao farms and how the local people seem to accept the practice as a way of life. On camera, journalists were able, with relative ease, to overtly interview real child slaves and get first-hand testimony about their hardships, a farm owner who openly admitted to having slaves and in how to get them, and a local official who confirmed as matter of fact that at least 90% of the Ivory Coast farms use child slave labor.  Ninety percent implies the existence of hundreds of thousands of slaves (Ryan 118). A 2000 US State Department report estimated that 15,000 Malian children worked on Ivory Coast cacao farms and that many of were under 12 years old and sold into indentured service (Off 133). Two of the local documentary crew even demonstrated how easy it was to buy slaves, posing as buyers, they went to the marketplace and were able to purchase two boys for the total of forty British pounds (approximately $40) within thirty minutes. Economics, low cacao market price, was credited as being the main reason why these farmers resorted to using slavery.  With such low cacao market prices, farmers cannot afford to pay employee wages and still make a profit, and they have no other income options. In contrast, in a free and mature economy, if a business is not profitable it goes out of business, and one can start a new business or find a new job, this is not the case for the West African cacao farmers.

Since the West African child labor scandals, there has an increased awareness and legislation attempts to eradicate forced and most hazardous child labor. Child labor in general is so embedded into the West African culture, not all children who work on farms are slaves or working with hazards. Most children work as part of the family on their family farms. It was deemed impossible and impractical to create a law that would abolish all form of child labor, however a voluntary agreement, The Harking-Engel Protocol, was signed among the Ivory Coast and the International Chocolate and Cocoa Industry in accordance with the International Labor Organization to end the worst forms of child labor in 2001 (Ryan 44, 47). Because of extreme poverty and lack of options, there are children who are better off working for they will at least have access to some food. Today, consumers are more aware, corporations have put efforts in demonstrating social responsibility in self-certifications, and nonprofit/advocacy organizations, have emerged and increased advocacy. There is still much poverty among cacao farmers, and many children  are still working on farms and some are still suspected of being forced to work against their will.  The child labor problems still exist today.  We, the world, hoped for that the state of child labor in West Africa would be better, however it could be worse.

It is natural that corporations would seek to do business with a poorer and less mature economies so to benefit from cheaper labor costs, but there should be limits when business practices violate human rights and the ability for workers to make a livable wage. It is evident that cacao farmers need more money so can they afford to hire farm workers to help cultivate their labor intensive cacao farms. In the least, the cacao market price needs to go up. It may mean that consumers would have to pay a little more for their chocolate treats. Would you be willing to pay a little more for your candy bar if it would end child and forced labor?

I realize that blindly throwing more money at the problem will not necessarily fix it if local corrupt governments and other stakeholders are still there to scheme away the extra money intended for the cacao farmers. This is a complex issue which requires multi-approach solution. We, the consumers, the governments, NGOs, the corporations, the media (or lack of media), the farmers, are all part of the problem, and we could also all be part of the solution. West African farmers and their children need special consideration for they are the most powerless demographic group in the chocolate food chain. The ones with the most power in the chocolate food chain by default have the most ability, and therefore the greater responsibility, to effect change. Wealthy companies and consumers are in the best position to invest and apply influence in the solution. We, the consumers, should expect that our chocolate companies to conduct business in an ethical and social responsible manner or make better consumer choices if they do not.

Here, in the first world, we would not accept the practice of child labor or slavery in our backyard, and we should not accept it elsewhere and in the products that we use and the foods we eat.  The West African modern-day slave issue is especially heartbreaking for it involves children in producing sweets that we all so enjoy so much. If we all knew that children were being kidnapped and forced to cultivate cacao, we would all enjoy the taste of our chocolate a little less. As consumers, we need to be more conscious about what we eat and learn as much as possible so we can make better consumer choices, maybe write a customer complaint to your chocolate provider or your congressman to influence change in law.  There is no better tasting chocolate than the one that is free from social guilt. In the end, we should all have the right to enjoy good and good-tasting 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, 2013, pp. 1088-1100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220388.2013.78004.

Cocoa Barometer 2015 report, USA Ed. Cocoabarometer.org. http://www.cocoabarometer.org/International_files/Cocoa%20Barometer%202015%20USA.pdf

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

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2008.

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.

Satioquia-Tan, Janine. Americans East How Much Chocolate? CNBC.com, 23 Jul. 2015, 7:41 PM ET.  http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/23/americans-eat-how-much-chocolate.html

Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You Are Missing: The  Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. Free Press, 2012.

Slavery: A Global Investigation. Produced and directed by Brian Woods and Kate Blanchet.  A True Vision Production in Association with HBO, 2000. TopDocumentaryFilms, topdocumentaryfilms.com/slavery-a-global-investigation.

Wessel, Marius, and Foluke Quist-Wessel. Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences., vol. 74-74, pp. 1-7, 12-2015. doi.org/10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.

World Cocoa Foundation, http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/category/program-region/africa.