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Chocolate: Brought to You by Child Slavery


In 2019, the chocolate and cocoa industry was valued at 44.35 billion dollars. And by 2027, it is estimated to be worth 61.34 billion. 

In the United States, The Hershey Company is the leading chocolate manufacturer. In 2018, they held over 43 percent of the U.S. market. 

Okay, and? Why should you care?

It is estimated that around 1.56 million children, as young as five years old, participate in harvesting cocoa. The number of children living in Ghana and the Ivory Coast participating increased from 31 percent to 45 percent. Why the increase? We don’t know for sure, but it is likely due to the rise in cocoa production, prompted by a rise in demand for chocolate. 

In June of 2021, Hershey, Mars and Nestlé (among other chocolate companies) faced a lawsuit filed by the human rights firm, International Rights Advocate (IRA), in Washington D.C. on behalf of eight children from Ivory Coast—a country in West Africa which produces around 45 percent of the world’s cocoa. They alleged that they were kidnapped from Mali and then used as slave labor on cocoa farms. Forced to work 12 to 14 hour days, they slept under armed guards meant to keep them from escaping. The children use machetes and work on land covered in pesticides. It is estimated that 95 percent of the children face severe safety hazards while working on the farms.

One of the plaintiffs claim that he was 11 years old when he was promised work in the Ivory Coast for 25,000 CFA francs—around 44 U.S. dollars a month. He then worked for two years, never receiving payment. The children were often separated from those who spoke the same language as them, leaving them unable to communicate with those around them about what was happening. 

And these major companies—the ones who make Kit Kats and M&Ms and cookie dough—all knew about it. 

In 2001, eight companies agreed to eradicate the worst forms of child labor in cocoa production by 70 percent by the year 2020. They all missed this deadline and have since been accused of intentionally misleading the public. 

The World Cocoa Foundation announced in 2020 that it would invest $1.2 billion into reducing child labor by 2025. In a statement, the president, Richard Scobey, said, “There are today still too many children in cocoa farming doing work for which they are too young, or work that endangers them. Child labor has no place in the cocoa supply chain.” 

The companies defended themselves by denouncing child slavery and claiming that the lawsuit should instead focus on the farms that created the conditions themselves. 

The Supreme Court ruled eight to one that while these companies allowed the farms to remain in operation by financially supporting them, there was no evidence that business decisions made in the United States led to slavery. Justice Alito dissented, but not in defense of the plaintiffs. He would simply reject the case on different grounds. 

The decision infuriated many activists who have fought the use of slave labor on cocoa plantations for decades. 

“It is so scandalous to me,” says Etelle Higonnet, the senior campaign director of Might Earth, which has long fought for safer and better farming conditions. “If these kids were white, you can bet we would not allow this to happen.”

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I'm a freshman at Florida State University majoring in Political Science and Editing, Writing and Media. I am passionate about politics, poetry, and people.
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