The chocolate industry makes an estimated $103 billion globally each year. As a result, there are greedy individuals willing to take shortcuts if it means more money in their pockets. Hence, the plague of modern-day slavery and child labour runs rampant in the farming of cacao. This is the key ingredient in making chocolate.


Pledges made by big-name chocolate companies such as Hershey, Nestlé, and Mars have been exaggerated. The truth of their efforts to end child and slave labour in cacao farming is not what they have declared it to be. These companies market false promises in hopes that their message will be believed and not further investigated.


Large companies source the majority of their cocoa from the Ivory Coast. So they claim their efforts will positively benefit these Ivory Coast farmers. They claim it will decrease the number of slave labourers, who produce 45 percent of the world’s cocoa. In reality, the last 20 years that were meant to be used to decrease slave labour, as written in the Harkin-Engel Protocol and signed by many major chocolate companies, have not been worked on as promised. Deadlines were set in 2005, 2008, and 2010. Companies, such as Mars, Nestlé, and Hershey, who signed the agreement, were to decrease and eventually eradicate child labour in cacao bean farming. These deadlines were clearly not met.


Child labour in the chocolate industry’s supply chain has only increased in those years. An estimated 1.56 million to 2.1 million illegal child labourers are still farming cacao for people to consume as candy across the globe. 


Promises to Improve

Major chocolate companies have published steps they have promised will rid their company’s supply chain of child labour. Some examples are as follows:


  • Mars: Plans to have responsibly sourced cocoa fully traceable to the farm level by 2025
    • As of 2018, 40 percent is traceable to a farm group and 24 percent by farmer
    • About 50 percent of their cocoa is certified Fairtrade
  • Hershey: Cocoa for Good Program pours $500 million to end child labour by 2030 and tackle a few additional causes they find important
    • As of 2018, 80 percent of their cocoa is “certified” 
    • Less than half of it is traceable.

To read more on some Chocolate Giants plans to eradicate child labour in their companies versus their actual outcomes, read here.

In February 2021, a lawsuit in the United States was brought by former child labourers in the Ivory Coast against chocolate giants Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé in light of their unfulfilled promises, knowingly allowing child labour to continue in their supply chains. 


New Promises in 2022

In a more recent chain of events, in 2022, Nestlé announced a new plan to rid its cocoa supply of child labour. They will invest more than $1.4 million into a new program. They ‘plan’ to give money to farmers who facilitate activities that benefit women and children. They also ‘plan’ to reward farmers who increase crop production and use sustainable farming practices. These incentives may look good on the outside but let’s see how they go.

These cash incentives can encourage farmers take shortcuts to create a higher crop yield. Perhaps using underaged children who cannot be paid. They can claim to sponsor programs that benefit women and children and not actually do so. Even if these efforts by Nestlé have good intentions, they seem half-witted.


Buying Ethical Chocolate

On the brighter side of the industry, we can look at Tony’s Chocolonely. This chocolate company dedicated to its mission for slavery-free chocolate has demonstrated honorable transparency in a statement they released a few weeks ago, admitting they were not completely slave-free. Even when the creation of the company was to stop this vicious cycle in the chocolate industry, they have proven not afraid to admit when they are wrong, unlike many industry giants. As they publicly acknowledge their problem, they also note that they are glad to, so they are able to crush it.

In the absence of further legal or legislative action, we can only hope companies will strive to be better, like Tony’s. 

To read more about the slave labour in the chocolate industry, click here

To learn more about where to shop ethically for your chocolate, click here.

The Freedom Hub offers an ethical chocolate range in our online shop.