The Chocolate Industry:
Abusive Child Labor and Poverty Behind the Sweetness


The Chocolate Industry:

Abusive Child Labor and Poverty Behind the Sweetness


While chocolate is sweet for us, it is heartbreaking for cocoa

producers and their families. Most cocoa farmers are trapped in

poverty and forced to rely on child labor and even child slavery

against their heartfelt wishes to do otherwise. Meanwhile, the

chocolate companies that have exacerbated these problems - and profit

from them - refuse to offer the Fair Trade alternative farmers need

to make ends meet. The six largest cocoa producing countries are the

Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, and Cameroon. Cocoa

has especially significant effects on the economy and the population

in these countries. For example, in Ghana, cocoa accounts for 40% of

total export revenues, and two million farmers are employed in cocoa

production. The Ivory Coast is the world's largest cocoa producer,

providing 43% of the world's cocoa.


In 2000, a report by the US State Department concluded that in recent

years approximately 15,000 children aged 9 to 12 have been sold into

forced labor on cotton, coffee and cocoa plantations in the north of

the country. A June 15, 2001 document (PDF 850kb) released by the

Geneva, Switzerland-based International Labor Organization (ILO)

reported that trafficking in children is widespread in West Africa.

(For ILO definitions of these labor violations, see ILO Convention

182 on Child Labor ILO Convention 29 on Forced Labor.)


The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) followed

up these reports with an extensive study of cocoa farms in the Ivory

Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, directly involving over 4,500

producers. The results, released in August 2002, indicated that child

slavery is thankfully very limited, other egregious forms of child

labor are unfortunately widespread. An estimated 284,000 children are

working on cocoa farms in hazardous tasks such as using machetes and

applying pesticides and insecticides without the necessary protective

equipment. Many of these children work on family farms, the children

of cocoa farmers who are so trapped in poverty they have to make the

hard choice to keep their children out of school to work. The ITTA

also reported that about 12,500 children working on cocoa farms had

no relatives in the area, a warning sign for trafficking.


These child laborers face arduous work, as cacao pods must be cut

from high branches with long-handled machetes, split open, and their

beans scooped out. Children who are involved in the worst labor

abuses come from countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo --

nations that are even more destitute than the impoverished Ivory

Coast. Parents in these countries sell their children to traffickers

believing that they will find honest work once they arrive in Ivory

Coast and then send their earnings home. But as soon as they are

separated from their families, the young boys are made to work for

little or nothing. The children work long and hard -- they head into

the fields at 6:00 in the morning and often do not finish until 6:30

at night.

" Though he had worked countless days harvesting cocoa pods -- 400 of

which are needed to make a pound of chocolate -- Diabate has never

tasted the finished product. "I don't know what chocolate is," he

told the press.

It is unbelievable and unacceptable that, in the beginning of the

21st century, the children of West Africa are trapped in such

desperation and even slave labor.


These children typically lack the opportunity for education, leaving

them with no way out of their cycle of despair. The IITA noted that

66% of child cocoa workers in the Ivory Coast did not attend school.

About 64% of children on cocoa farms are under age 14, meaning that

the loss of an education comes at an early age for the majority of

children on cocoa farms.


The cause: "Free trade," structural adjustment, and corporate control


These problems are largely tied to insufficient income for cocoa

producers and their communities. The IITA found that annual West

African cocoa revenues average $30 to $110 per household member,

making "it difficult for families to have sufficient income to meet

their needs." Mana Osei Yawu III, Chief of Niveneso Village in Ghana

has said " We had no water in the village, we just had dirty water

from rivers and streams. People spent a lot of time collecting water

and there was always someone who was sick. Many people in the village

were wondering how much longer they could stay in the village without

water, because they were getting sick. The money we used to get from

selling our cocoa beans to the government didn't give us enough to

buy materials or a pump for our own water supply."


Producer income remain low because major chocolate and cocoa

processing companies have refused to take any steps to ensure stable

and sufficient prices for cocoa producers. World cocoa prices

fluctuate widely and have been well below production costs in the

last decade. Though cocoa prices have show moderate increases in the

past few years, cocoa producers remain steeped in debt accumulated

when prices were below production costs. Producers typically also get

only half the world price, as they must use exploitative middlemen to

sell their crop.


The effects of insufficient cocoa income have been exacerbated by

deregulation of agriculture in West Africa, which abolished commodity

boards across the region, leaving small farmers at the mercy of the

market. This economic crisis has forced farmers to cut their labor

costs, and tragically that has meant relying on slave labor or

pulling children out of school to work on family farms. These small

farmers and their children remained trapped in a cycle of poverty,

without hope for sufficient income or access to basic education or

health care. As the IITA summarized, "Interviews with community

leaders indicated that the greater employment of family labor was a

common response to the recent drop in cocoa prices and the crisis in

cocoa incomes. In addition to the substitution of family labor for

paid labor, farmers have also reduced the use of purchased inputs.

The net effect of both of these factors has led to lower productivity

and incomes, and, perhaps most importantly, to reduced household

investments in children's education."


For years, US chocolate manufacturers have said they are not

responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations since they don't

own them. But the $13 billion chocolate industry is heavily

consolidated, with just two firms -- Hershey's and M&M/Mars --

controlling two-thirds of the US chocolate candy market. Surely,

these global corporations have the power and the ability to reform

problems in the supply chain. What they lack is the will


After a string of media exposes and the threat of government action

jeopardized their image, the chocolate industry finally agreed to

take action in 2001. On November 30, 2001 the US chocolate industry

released a Protocol and Joint Statement outlining their plans to work

toward eliminating the worst forms of child labor (see ILO Convention

182) and forced labor (see ILO Convention 29) in cocoa production.


Unfortunately, the plan does not guarantee stable and sufficient

prices for cocoa, or any guarantee that cocoa farmers will receive a

fair income in the end Without such a guarantee, there is now way to

ensure that abusive child labor on cocoa farms will cease for good.


The solution: Fair Trade cocoa and chocolate


Fortunately, there is a way to correct the economic imbalances of the

cocoa system: Fair Trade. Fair Trade chocolate and cocoa productsare

marked with the "Fair Trade Certified" and Fair Trade Federation

labels. Fair Trade is an international monitoring and certification

system that guarantees a minimum price under direct contracts,

prohibits abusive child labor, and promoted environmental

sustainability. The Fair Trade system guarantees that farmers receive

a "floor price" of at least $.80/pound for non-organic cocoa and

$0.89/pound for organic cocoa. Producers receive $150 per metric ton

above the world price if the world price rises above the Fair Trade

floor price. This gives farmers the stable and sufficient income they

need to support their families with dignity. Fair Trade prohibits

abusive child labor and forced labor. Farms are monitored once per

year to ensure that all conditions are met.See the full criteria for

Fair Trade (PDF 278kb). Fair Trade cocoa comes from Belize, Bolivia,

Cameroon, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ghana,

Nicaragua, and Peru. Read our cooperative profiles to learn more

about these Fair Trade cocoa farmers.


Our Fair Trade Chocolate/cocoa Campaign is pressuring large companies

like Mars, Inc. (maker of M&M's, Snickers, and Milky Way) and other

members of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association of America to sell

Fair Trade chocolate and cocoa products immediately. We also support

a network of K-12 schools, campus groups and community activists

advocating for Fair Trade chocolate and cocoa around the USA.


Despite growing demand, Mars, Inc. has refused to offer farmers the

Fair Trade alternative they so desperately need. In June, more than

200 organizations signed a letter to M&M/Mars supporting Global

Exchange's Campaign demands, - and asking the company to address the

injustices in the cocoa fields by starting to offer Fair Trade

chocolate. Through subsequent national consumer advocacy, M&M/Mars

has received an outpouring of requests for Fair Trade-- including

more than 1,000 letters from schoolchildren, and over than 5,000

faxes and countless e-mails and phone calls from adults. In February

of 2004, two coalitions of highly respected national organizations

requested meetings with M&M/Mars to discuss Fair Trade purchasing,

meetings which M&M/Mars unfortunately refused to hold.


Despite such overwhelming appeals, M&M/Mars continues to refuse to

offer Fair Trade chocolate, and reiterates total faith in the

industry Protocol and other development projects. Despite the good

intentions behind these efforts, none ensures the minimum price

producers need, and none involves the independent certification that

consumers want. Fair Trade incorporates all these components,

offering the best way for M&M/Mars to realize the goals of the

Protocol and maintain consumer support.


Get involved!


Given M&M/Mars' continued lack of interest in selling Fair Trade

chocolate and ensuring a decent life for farmers and their families,

it is clear that we need to keep pushing for Fair Trade chocolate in

growing numbers! Global Exchange supports a network of grassroots

activists in local advocacy and education. We're also helping schools

and community organizations convert their candy bar fundraisers to

Fair Trade sources. Please join us in these efforts today and make a

real difference for cocoa farming communities in struggle around the

world. Check out our action pack and contact us to get involved



Special news for concerned parents and teachers: We are now

distributing activity books for K-12 classrooms and parents! Teachers

and parents can use the materials to give children the facts about

how kids just like them never get to eat chocolate or play but

instead spend their whole time working in the cocoa fields. The

materials encourage children to make their voices heard by sending

candy wrappers to M&M/Mars with letters asking the company to offer

Fair Trade chocolate. For more information, please contact our Fair

Trade Campaigns at or call 415-255-7296.

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