Chocolate Industries: the worsening problem of child labour



In 2001 some of the world’s largest manufacturers of chocolate pledged to eradicate all form of child labour from cocoa farming. 20 years down the road and recent data speak the bitter truth; there is an incredible hike 62% in cocoa production in the past decade; but instead of surging, child labours on the cocoa field have increased by 14%.

The dark side of chocolate industries

Cocoa, the main ingredient of chocolate only grows in the tropical climate of Asia, Latin America and Western Africa. Amongst all these, more than 70% of cocoa is supplied from Western Africa; mainly from the Ivory Coast and Ghana which are the major suppliers of cocoa to most of the leading chocolate manufacturing company in the world.

In the western part of Africa, coca crop is the major source of income; accounting 60% of Ivory Coast’s total revenue. But metaphorically, the chocolate doesn’t taste sweet to the cocoa farmer. The increasing love for chocolate globally has increased demand for cheap cocoa; pushing the farmers below the poverty line with an average earning of less than $2 a day.

The cocoa farm has long been accused of deploying under-aged labourers on the field. Extreme poverty in the area forces children to work in the fields. For more production; children from neighbouring poor African countries (Mali and Burkina Faso) are often trafficked to work on the cocoa farm.

Wretched life of child labour/slaves in cocoa farms

Children working on the farm lies between the age group of 12- 16 years; but in some places, children as young as 5 are also seen trapped as child labourers. From climbing cocoa tree for cutting bean pods to clearing forest with a chainsaw; children in these farms work with a heavy and dangerous knifes; which incorporates them into the worst form of child labour by the UN convention.

After cutting the bean pods, children have to carry them in sacks that could weight up to 100 pounds. “some of the bags were taller than me. It took two people to put the bag on my head. And when you didn’t hurry, you were beaten.” says Aly Diabat, a former slave at the cocoa farm. Using sharp machetes leaves most of the child labours in the cocoa industry with life-long scars on hands, arms, legs or shoulders.

An inquiry by International Labor Rights Forum; in Western Africa, cocoa farms trafficked children, work as slaves with no pay at all. These slave children are in most cases deprived of good quality food, proper sanitation and education; violating Child Labour Standards by International Labours Organisation. These children often have to face physical violence for working slowly or when trying to flee.

One of the ex-slaves of the cocoa farm, Drissa who have never tasted chocolate in his life; when asked what he would like to tell people eating chocolate said; “When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”

The failed attempt by chocolate industries

About a decade before $100 billion chocolate industries pawned to cut child labour by 70% by 2020 from the Western African cocoa production. But a recent report published by the US Department of Labor, have shown that instead of falling; numbers of children engaged in the cocoa farming sector have exponentially increased.

In the cocoa season 2018-19, 43% of children engaged in cocoa farming were involved in precarious activities. This huge number of children is 30% higher when compared to a decade back figures; with child labour increased from 31% to 45% in the same duration; research group NORC, University of Chicago.

Although major chocolate companies like Nestlé, Hershey and Mars signed cross-sector accord against child labour in chocolate industries in 2001; but despite their promises of eradicating illegal practices, the recent figures speak for themselves

Kareem Kysia, an author of the report’s team said explaining the problem of child labour in Ivory Coast and Ghana; “If you take a big pot of boiling water and you pour it into your bathtub; you will be able to measure the change in temperature. If you take that same pot of boiling water and throw it in your swimming pool; good luck seeing a change in temperature. This is something we say throughout the report: you need a bigger bucket of water.”


After the report got published, Mars responded saying that child labour has no place in the chocolate industry and it will help “fix a broken supply chain” with $1billion.

Founder of the US camping group Corporate Accountability Lab, Charity Ryerson says; “In the past 20 years, the cocoa industry has invested enormous skill and resources in public relations around sustainability, but the increase in child labour demonstrates it has utterly failed to bring that same expertise and investment to create real sustainability.”

In the past, a few journalists tried to expose the use of child labour in the chocolate industry but just after a few reports, the industry has become more tight-lipped and have started to hide child labours while inspection.

According to Fairtrade Foundation, of chocolate industry’s total revenue only about 6% reaches these farms. To eradicate child labour the first hurdle the government need to tackle is extreme poverty in the cocoa-growing regions.


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