This Easter, Let’s Take Collective Action Towards a Fair Chocolate Industry

With Easter right around the corner, there are new reports of child labor in cocoa. This time it was documented in the supply chain of one of the very companies who claims to not use child labor: Cadbury. In Channel4’s Dispatches investigation, children in Ghana as young as 10 were documented harvesting cocoa pods and handling sharp machetes. In Ghana, the world’s second largest cocoa producer after neighboring country Cote d’Ivoire, it is illegal for anyone under 18 to engage in hazardous work. And, specifically, it is illegal for children under the age of 13 to work on cocoa farms.

Cocoa Made Right? – Cadbury’s Child Labor Commitments are Words not Action

Cadbury is owned by the U.S. food giant Mondelēz International (formerly Kraft Foods), who made over 3.6 billion dollars in profits last year. You probably know Cadbury’s chocolate. Every spring, bags of their Cadbury eggs line grocery store shelves – those creamy chocolate eggs with the pastel-colored crunchy sugar coating – an Easter and springtime staple. They used to be a favorite of mine as a kid – probably when I was around the same age as the children found harvesting cocoa in West Africa. I’d try to savor the bag of Cadbury Eggs I’d find in my Easter basket, but inevitably I’d polish them off pretty quickly and would be left looking forward to the next year’s supply.

But the story behind those tasty Easter chocolates isn’t sweet at all, and you won’t find that out just by reading the Cadbury packaging or even by visiting their website. In fact, you’ll find quite the opposite story. Front and center on their website reads “100% sustainably sourced cocoa – 100% better for cocoa farmers and communities.” This is all part of their Cocoa Life program they claim ensures their cocoa is “made right.” The Cocoa Life mission states:

We have a vision to make cocoa right. That’s why our mission is to lead cocoa sector transformation by driving holistic solutions that address root causes and create systemic, lasting change. We do this by implementing our own holistic program in partnership with others, sharing what we’ve learned on the journey, and by advocating for policy change. 

This sounds nice. But here’s the problem: big chocolate companies have been making nice-sounding declarations for decades and still child labor continues.

Child Labor is a Symptom of Big Chocolate’s Exploitative Business Model

Two decades ago, after an earlier BBC expose of child labor in the chocolate industry led to intense pressure, leaders in the chocolate industry pledged to end child labor in cocoa supply chains in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. This commitment was made under the 2001 Hankin-Engel Protocol and was renewed again with the 2010 Framework of Action. But we’ve arrived at that twenty year mark, only to find child labor to be on the rise. In fact, a report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor found the rate of child labor in cocoa in agricultural households in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana increased between 2008/2009 and 2018/2019.

Not only have rates of child labor in those two countries increased, but the conditions under which many of these children work have become increasingly dangerous with the use of pesticides and chemical inputs. We’ve known what the chocolate industry pledged to accomplish and we’ve been calling out their utter failure to do so.

Child labor is a symptom of a much larger problem: the systemic exploitation of cocoa farming families by big chocolate companies. Even as chocolate companies make billions, many cocoa farmers live on just $1 per day. Instead of launching more PR campaigns and corporate initiatives, it’s high time companies pay cocoa farmers a real living income for their crops.

Add your name to the petition calling on cocoa companies to take meaningful action to end child labor

Big Chocolate Failing to Act on Child Labor

Last year should have been a landmark year in the fight against child labor in cocoa. Instead, the cocoa sector as a whole remained suspiciously quiet as the benchmark year for eliminating child labor came and went.

The recent documentation of child labor in Cadbury’s supply chain sadly doesn’t come as a surprise. After all, even Tony’s Chocolonely – which boasts the motto of “Let’s make chocolate 100 per cent slave-free” – came under scrutiny when it was revealed earlier this year that 1,700 child workers were found in their supply chain.

From reports of child labor in the supply chains of “ethical” brands like Tony’s Chocolonely to chocolate giants like Cadbury, it’s clear that exploitation is baked into the conventional chocolate business model.

Support Companies Building a Fair Chocolate Industry

But thankfully there are brands who are committed to building a different kind of chocolate industry – one based on supporting fair livelihoods for chocolate farming families and supporting people instead of big payouts for shareholders.

  • Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One Chocolate
  • AlterEco
  • Equal Exchange

You can find our full list of Mission Driven chocolate brands on our website, too.

Hear More About the Bitter Truths Behind Big Chocolate

Lastly, whether you’ve been with us in our fight against child labor in cocoa for awhile or whether you’re just learning about this work, don’t forget we have an entire podcast season exposing the bitter truths behind the ingredients in Nestle’s KitKat bar. The latest reports of chid labor in cocoa may be in Mondelēz International’s supply chain, but the reality is that the story shared in our “Nestle’s KitKat Unwrapped” series covers many of systemic issues and market forces that fuel the dependence on child labor across many of the biggest chocolate brands.

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