Tag Archives: forced labor

From Cadbury to Nestlé: Big Chocolate & Forced Labor

While chocolate is a sweet delicacy enjoyed by millions around the world, the underlying forces of cacao production often leave a sour taste in consumers’ mouths. After Europeans “discovered” chocolate in Mesoamerica, its dissemination in Europe relied on the forced labor of indigenous populations and later African slaves on cacao plantations. Slavery was abolished on paper in England in 1833. Yet, it persisted under new names from serviçal in Sao Tome e Principe to “worst forms of child labor” in Côte d’Ivoire. I will compare the response of two influential companies in the cocoa industry–Cadbury and Nestlé–when faced with evidence of forced labor  in their cacao supply chain. While both companies’ actions are ultimately profit-driven, Cadbury took more legitimate actions to divest from forced labor than Nestlé, as the latter has yet to fully invest in ethically-sourced cacao.


William Cadbury’s awareness of forced labor in cacao plantations started with rumors of horrible work conditions in Sao Tome and Príncipe in 1901. At the time, Cadbury obtained 55% of its cacao from the area (Higgs 2012:9). He met with Portuguese authorities who assured him that new labour legislation addressed concerns of minimum wage (Satre 2005:23). Still, Cadbury commissioned Joseph Burtt in 1905 to investigate the work conditions in Sao Tome e Principe. Prior to Burtt’s return, Henry Nevinson published his investigative journalism in Harper’s Magazine in 1905.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 07.27.43
Cadbury's_Cocoa_advert_with_rower_1885Nevinson shed light on the forced labor of indentured servants (serviçal) in Sao Tome e Principe (Martin 2017). It was indistinguishable from slavery. Burtt returns in 1907, and his report supports Nevinson’s research. Yet, British authorities request Burtt revise his findings to assuage Portuguese authorities because Portuguese authorities were instrumental to British colonial interests in South Africa (Satre 2005: 76, 24). Up to then, Cadbury’s actions were behind the public eye. While the company researched forced labor and attempted to negotiate with both British and Portuguese authorities with no divestment in sight, their consumers continued purchasing their “guaranteed pure and soluble” cacao. 

Nevinson persevered with his reporting and published “The Angola Slave Trade” in The Fornightly Review, which garnered a lot of publicity. Forced labor alarmed British consumers because although England had abolished slavery in 1833, they were still complicit to it. Slavery did not align itself with the Quaker values of the time. As consumers started demanding Cadbury take action, Cadbury takes a final trip to Sao Tome and Principe.

Upon his return, he convinces J.S. Fry and Rowntree, other British chocolatemakers to join him as Cadbury boycotts cacao production in Sao Tome and Principe. Presumably, Cadbury divests because of the continuous failed promises by the Portuguese government to ameliorate working conditions in both islands. While the Portuguese government was not intent on ending slavery in cacao production, Cadbury did not suddenly reach enlightenment in 1909. At the time of initial evidence of slavery in Sao Tome and Principe, Cadbury had no other sustainable source of cacao if it wanted to maintain its leading status amongst British consumers. A viable option was needed as the British confectionners turned to mainland West Africa. Hence, the boycott from its main source of cacao did not hurt Cadbury because during his backdoor negotiations with various stakeholders, cacao trees were being planted in the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana). From his visit to the Gold Coast in 1906 to the official boycott from Sao Tome’s cacao in 1909, cocoa harvest in the Gold Coast increased from 9004 to 20,534 metric tons (Grant 2005: 175). Therefore, in addition to being ethically sound, the move to the Gold Coast in 1909 was also business-proof.


A century later, big chocolate makers are still guilty of profiting from the fruits of forced labor in their supply chain. In 1998, A Taste of Slavery: How Your Chocolate May be Tainted was published. The UNICEF  report was one of the first to highlight evidence of child labor in West Africa, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire. Young people were often worked almost under horrible conditions: “the [Malian] boys had little to eat, slept in bunk-houses that were locked at night, and were frequently beaten. They had horrible sores on their backs and shoulders, some as a result of carrying the heavy bags of cocoa, but some likely the effects of physical abuse” (Off 2008: 121). Child labor in cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire involves familial and contracted labor, often including human trafficking of children from neighboring countries like Mali and Burkina Faso. Such labor conditions violate the International Labor Organization (ILO) Minimum Age Convention and the ILO Forced Labour Convention (Schrage and Ewing 2005: 101-102).

Increasing media attention to such reports of child slavery pushed the cocoa industry to stop dawdling and take action because “the mistreatment of children posed a clear threat to corporate reputation and sales” (Schrage and Ewing 2005: 104). As the United States Congress began the legislative process of banning Ivorian cacao, the industry proposed a protocol to address the reports. In September 2001, the Chocolate Manufacters Association (CMA) and the World Cocoa Foundation signed the Protocol for the Growing and Processing of Cocoa Beans and their Derivative Products in a Manner that Complies with ILO Convention 182 Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Chila Labor also known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol. Ever since its inception, the protocol has continuously been extended as chocolate companies fail to eradicate the worst form of child labor from their supply chain by their own deadlines. Many have critiqued the protocol as too lenient because a voluntary plan does not ensure the industry will be accountable.

Nestlé has undertook actions to adhere to the Harkin-Engel Protocol. The company joined the Global Issues Group (GIG), “an ad-hoc, pre-competitive association of cocoa industry participants formed in response to the agreements as spelled out in the Harkin-Engil Protocol” (Tulane research). Furthermore, Nestlé contracted UTZ Certified, a product certification organization, to be held accountable for its cacao consumption. Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 16.27.24In 2009, Nestlé established the Cocoa Plan. The hyperlinked video highlights the work of the Cocoa Plan in Côte d’Ivoire. Through the International Cocoa Initiative, the Cocoa Plan has built schools throughout Côte d’Ivoire in order to provide alternatives for children who were previously child laborers or could potentially be involved in cacao production.This iniative, among others, empowers local communities and seeks to reduce the prevalence of the “worst forms of child labor” in cacao production.In addition, Nestlé has supported further investigation into their cacao sourcing. The Fair Labor Association (FLA) conducted a thorough investigation of the company’s cacao supply chain, making it the first chocolate-maker to undertake such a process (CNN 2012). The FLA has continued these investigations, which attest to Nestlé’s investment in an ethical supply chain. Nestlé’s actions were in response to growing criticism. The company had to handle lawsuits and respond to documentaries about the persistence of forced labor in Côte d’Ivoire in order to appease its consumer base, who was demanding more accountability in the cacao supply chain.


Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 16.28.53Consumer demand for and consumption of ethically produced chocolate is highest in the United Kingdom. This trend explains why Kit Kat chocolate bars in the UK bear the Faitrade mark and Kit Kat chocolate bars in Germany do not. While both bars have the Cocoa Plan logo, Nestlé reveals that it only purchases 14.5% of its cocoa through the Plan, of which 75% is either UTZ or Fairtrade-certified (Nestle 2013: 160). While Nestlé has taken steps to ethically source its cacao, this has only been for consumers who actively demand it.

Similar to Cadbury, Nestlé is acting in a profit-maximizing way. Ethics are secondary because the investment in the Cocoa Plan for all of its chocolate would not be be as profitable beyond the UK. Unlike Cadbury, Nestlé has unfortunately not significantly addressed the Protocol because shared responsibility with other big chocolatemakers and lack of significant consumer demand diffuse the pressure to immediately conform.


Cadbury’s Advert with Rower 1885. 2010. Wikimedia Commons

CNN,. 2012. “Nestleé Advances Child Labor Battle Plan”. Retrieved March 23, 2017 (http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/29/nestle-advances-child-labor-battle-plan/).

Grant, Kevin. A Civilised Savagery: Britain and the New Slaveries in Africa, 1884-1926.  London: Routledge, 2005.

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

Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 01, 2017.

Nestlé,. 2013. Nestlé In Society: Creating Shared Value And Meeting Our Commitments 2013. Nestlé. Retrieved March 21, 2017 (http://storage.nestle.com/Interactive_CSV_Full_2013/files/assets/common/downloads/Creating%20Shared%20Value%20Full%20Report%202013.pdf).

Nevinson, Henry Woodd. “The Slave-Trade of to-Day. Conclusion–the Islands of Doom.” Harper’s Monthly, 1906, 327-37.

Off, Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate. 1st ed. New York [u.a.]: The New Press.

Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business.  Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005.

Schrage, Elliot, and Anthony Ewing. 2005. The Cocoa Industry And Child Labour. Journal of Corporate Citizenship. Retrieved March 22, 2017 (http://www.justice.gov.il/Units/Trafficking/MainDocs/The_Cocoa_Industry_and_child_labour.pdf).

The Bitter Truth about Chocolate: A Long History of Forced Labor

The hands that consume chocolate sadly know very little about the hands, stricken by poverty and coercion, that tirelessly work to produce the coveted product (Contrasts: Things Kids Like). Today, over 70% of the world’s supply of cacao is produced in Africa, largely in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, two West African countries that depend heavily on child labor to meet the growing demands of the international chocolate industry (“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry”). Of the 1,203,473 child laborers involved in the cocoa sector in Cote d’Ivoire, approximately 95.7% of those children were performing hazardous work involved in cocoa production (“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor-Côte d’Ivoire”). Similarly, this alarming proportion of child laborers engaged in risky labors for cocoa production was also reported in Ghana (“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor-Ghana”). While reports exposing the extent of child trafficking and labor in the chocolate industry shocked Western consumers, the reliance on forced labor is hardly a recent addition to the production of cocoa.

 “Labor rights issues in cocoa production are nothing new. They are tradition.” Professor Carla Martin, Harvard University

Over the past few centuries, forced labor in cocoa and sugar production has adapted to fulfill economic incentives as well as resist pressures of abolition. From the Encomienda system established by Spanish colonizers to the chattel slavery that manifested in the triangular trade, and now to the child labor that plagues cacao-producing regions, coerced labor has modified its form but has remained a major component of production. The systems of labor inequality that persist in cocoa and sugar production reflect the checkered history of slavery and elucidate the role of economic factors in perpetuating forced labor to drive the commodities to massive consumption.

Human Interventions in Cacao Production

Young boy struggling to transport cacao pods through the forest.

Understanding the nature of cacao helps to elucidate why human labor particularly was so essential to sustain its procurement and how forced labor systems developed to maximize the profit of this cash crop. The cultivation and retrieval of cacao itself is a delicate process, thereby necessitating the precision and tender care of human labor that cannot be easily replaced by a mechanical substitute.  A fragile plant, the cacao tree must be kept carefully unharmed during recovery of the cacao pods. This requires human labor to precisely and skillfully use a cutlass, knife, or long-handled tool to remove the cacao pods from the tree (Martin, Lecture 4). The pods are then transferred to a sack, totaling more than 100 pounds in weight that must be carried back (“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry”). The photo above captures the difficulty of this task, among others that are also extremely laborious and dangerous and continue to be so for child slaves in West Africa. The careful and gentle treatment required in the initial steps of cacao production partly explains why despite immense mechanization of our industries, technological alternatives have not satisfied the need for labor in the stage of cultivation and crop retrieval.

The Encomienda System

While the characteristics of the cacao plant help explain the demand for human labor, economic factors better demonstrate why the labor systems implemented over the centuries were steeped in inequality and disparity. One of the first major labor systems imposed on indigenous people was the encomienda system introduced to the Americas in the sixteenth century by the Spanish. The Spanish were granted the right to exact tribute, whether in the form of gold or forced labor, from the indigenous people (“Encomienda system established”). This system was intended to Christianize and care for inhabitants but quickly morphed into a means of usurping indigenous land and exploiting indigenous people, as portrayed in the image below. The economic incentive underlying this system of forced labor was clear: the Spanish aimed to extract cacao coinage in order to maximize the profit of this lucrative commodity (Martin, Lecture 6). The indigenous people were not protected or paid, and worked in harsh conditions; even though they were not technically owned, they were required to produce cacao for the Spanish. Though the encomienda system eventually ended due to protest from clergy, it was quickly replaced by the repartimiento, another exploitative means of further wealth extraction (Martin, Lecture 6). This account serves to demonstrate how one form of forced labor merely transitioned into another abusive form in response to pressures of abolition; this theme of modification in the face of abolition is recurrent, leading to the persistence of forced labor. Therefore, the economic motive of resource extraction made the encomienda system an abusive burden for indigenous people.

The stark differences between the goals of the encomienda and the abusive, exploitative system that resulted.

The Triangular Trade

This early form of an economically incentivized labor system set the precedent for more egregious forms in the following decades. In the sixteenth century, chattel slavery emerged as one of the largest systems of forced labor, as evidenced by the Triangular Trade. As the demand for sugar, cocoa, cotton, and other products began to escalate, the need for human labor also drastically increased. The triangular trade, a trading system involving Britain, West Africa, and the Americas, was implemented to accommodate the growing demand for labor. By the nineteenth century, nearly 15 million enslaved Africans were transported to the New World as “chattel” (Martin, Lecture 6). Chattel slaves refers humans that are treated as personal property that can be owned and sold as a commodity. Interestingly, African slaves were “false commodities” rather than actual commodities (Mintz 1986). In the complex triangular exchange, slaves were being traded for goods but they themselves were not objects, despite being treated as such. These slaves suffered a very long and harsh voyage, a significant proportion of them dying, and endured many more hardships upon arrival. While a common misconception holds that slaves were doing unskilled, menial tasks, they were actually involved in many labor intensive responsibilities that severely diminished their quality of life (Martin, Lecture 6).

The Triangular Trade highlights the exchange of commodities between Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

Much like the encomienda system, this system of slavery was fueled by economic considerations. Firstly, the exchange was designed to maximize wealth and prospects for the colonizers; secondly, the origin of Negro slavery can be traced back to the economic decision to capitalize off the cheapest form of labor, rather than back to any racial explanation (Martin, Lecture 6). This form of forced labor was also met with substantial opposition, slowly leading to abolition by the late nineteenth century. Abolition, however, did not eliminate all forms of forced labor. The permissive attitudes towards labor inequality bred throughout centuries of slavery has led to the exploitation of other vulnerable populations by industry giants.

Addressing Practices of Child Labor in the Twenty-first Century

Tracing the incentives and nature of major systems of coerced labor demonstrates how in response to pressures of opposition and abolition, forms of forced slavery transitioned into a form that exploited a different susceptible population. Today, as we grapple with the challenges of child trafficking and labor within the chocolate industry, it is important to similarly examine the economic precursors that contributed to this problem. While lack of education and enforcement contribute to the child labor problem, a significant factor is an economic driver, as was the case in many other previous forms of forced labor. The immense poverty experienced by cacao-growing farmers prevents them from being able to manage their business or pay their adult employees, they are forced to recruit their children rather than educating them (“International Labor Rights Forum”). Addressing this problem requires counteracting the consequences of poverty with measures that economically empower these communities. As consumers, it is our responsibility  to expect fair treatment of workers and to demand accountability from the major players in the chocolate industry.

Therefore, examining the role of economic incentives in driving different forced labor forms in the past has informed us about why these coercive systems persist, and how economic considerations continue to hinder complete abolition of forms of inequality in labor.

Works Cited

“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry | Food Empowerment Project. Food Empowerment Project, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/&gt;.

“Encomienda system established.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/imperial-rivalries/timeline-terms/encomienda-system-established&gt;.

“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Côte d’Ivoire.” United States Department of Labor. United States Department of Labor, 07 Dec. 2016. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/cote-divoire#_ENREF_9&gt;.

“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Ghana.” United States Department of Labor. United States Department of Labor, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <https://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/2014TDA/ghana.pdf&gt;.

“International Labor Rights Forum.” Cocoa | International Labor Rights Forum. International Labor Rights Forum, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <http://www.laborrights.org/industries/cocoa&gt;.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 4: Sugar and cacao.” Harvard University, Cambridge. 8 Mar. 2017. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 6: Slavery, abolition, and forced labor.” Harvard University, Cambridge. 8 Mar. 2017. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, Penguin Books, 1986.

Images and Video Links

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/46/14/32/4614324cf570d635eb2ed8e3efcba4a2.jpg&gt;.

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/90/c9/bc/90c9bcf094663c33e8c8fad2e9d67253.jpg&gt;.

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <https://kmjantz.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/map2.jpg&gt;.

Ph Balanced Films. “Contrasts: Things Kids Like.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube,27 March 2013. Web. 8 March 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4a7p33UJ-Aw&gt;.


The Not-So-Sweet Aspect of Sugar: Coerced Labor and Challenges for Abolition

With the colonization of the New World by the Europeans came great power, and with that great power came great responsibility. However, unfortunately the Europeans, and especially the Spanish colonizers and English empire, did not harness that power solely for good. What was originally planned as a grant or approval by the Spanish authorities in the 1500s to colonize the land of the indigenous people–termed the ‘Encomienda’–to teach them their religions, and have them work for them in return, in reality, became a period of coerced labor, harsh working conditions, and many deaths of the indigenous people (Betchelder and Sanchez, 2013; Martin, 2016). What began to arise further around the sugar and cacao growing regions of Africa and the Caribbean would soon emulate similar conditions for natives and further African Americans up until and somewhat through the mid 1800s. Europeans would continue to usurp land of indigenous people and even enslave natives, forcing them into labor for production of the empire’s desired goods for trade (Martin, 2016). And although throughout time there would be many acting powers and forces against slavery, abolition faced significant challenges leading up to the 1900s. As certain goods like sugar became commodities and goods of all classes, and mass production started to increase, slavery would sky rocket (Richardson, 1987). This blog post will further discuss forces behind the economy of slavery and the consequent challenges abolition faced in the wake of the era of forced labor amidst sugar production. In essence, as sugar production began to emerge as a leading economic stimulus, supporting mass growth of the English empire and economy, the possibility of abolition became tougher and tougher as slavery was in fact, becoming the crux and strength of these growing empires and powers.

As Mintz mentions in Sweetness and Power, as the English began to cultivate sugar in larger amounts of production, it became more of a commodity, one that many classes regarded not only as political or a way to display wealth, but also economical, and a way to increase the economy (Mintz, 1984). In fact, England had the most colonizing and importing of slaves for the cultivation of sugar. Sugar production rose in countries like Barbados and Jamaica which required more slaves to keep up with production (Martin, 2016; Mintz, 1984). As African Americans were shipped along the Atlantic Slave Trade in tens of millions, many millions were still dying off, ceasing the growth rate of the black population and causing more and more African Americans to be traded as property (Martin, 2016).

Slavery pics

The path of trade between the Americas and Africa in terms of slaves as well as sugar and other commodities. As seen in the above picture, Africa was the closet to the Americas for colonizers to bring in mass, coerced labor, so it was most economically sound to them.  

[Source: http://www.slideshare.net/abarnette/chapter-4-section-3-2013%5D

          Yet amidst all of this unethical production, there were still abolitionist movements such as the Haitian Revolution, however even then, when slaves received freedom in Haiti, other regions would pick up from where they left off.

haitain revolution

Early abolitionist attempts and slavery revolts: the Haitian Revolution against the French who enslaved the African Americans for their contribution from their enslavement to 40% of the French economy – hence, the “Crown Jewels”

[Source: http://creofire.com/a-nation-molded-to-fail/]

          In fact, slavery was truly the “crown jewels” of many of these empires (Mintz, 1984). 40% of France’s economic growth would be based on slavery. As sugar became a commodity of all classes in England and people rose their demand for the good for adding it to spices and foods, and calorie consumption, slavery was deemed necessary to keep these empires thriving (Richardson, 1987). Therefore a key, crucial challenge to abolitionism was in fact the economy. These empires had gotten away with slavery for quite a while that it got to the point that with the zero growth rate of the slaves and the sky rocketing economy due to forced labor, slave trade, and sugar and cacao production, slavery was invetiable without the falling of an empire.

However, one may ask why African Americans were enslaved and not other populations. In fact, it has been mentioned to be purely economical, and not racially rooted (Mintz, 1984). If this is fact, then it seems an obvious barrier to abolition. In other words, abolition of slavery was one thing, but specifically abolishing slavery of black individuals was another, even harder attempt, given that Africa was the closest neighbor to the colonizers and therefore the cheapest method to keep the economy growing (Mintz, 1984). If the English empires and even the Spaniards were to move their production and manufacturing to another region of indigenous people, the economy would surely suffer as the distance and resources would drain production costs.

Therefore, although slavery was an immoral and ruthless act taken up by growing empires during the commodification of cacao and sugar, abolition would not significantly be able to emerge until later into the 1800s. However, even then, and through the early 20th century, in areas such as Säo Tomé there would be acts of coerced labor, indentured servitude, and in some extremes, slavery (Martin, 2016). As long as the economy was thriving and production was booming, these empires would consider their people before those of other countries. Not until the Industrial Revolution and amendments along with mass media and the press would abolition have a stronger foot in the door.


Batchelder, Ronald W., and Nicolas Sanchez. “The encomienda and the optimizing imperialist: an interpretation of Spanish imperialism in the Americas.” Public Choice 156.1-2 (2013): 45-60.

Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and power. New York: Viking, 1985.

Richardson, David. “The slave trade, sugar, and British economic growth, 1748-1776.” The      Journal of Interdisciplinary History 17.4 (1987): 739-769.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 6: Slavery, abolition, and forced labor.” Harvard University.Cambridge, MA. 2 March 2016.