The Truth About Chocolate is Not So Sweet


Gabrielle Daley, Feature Editor

In the muggy heat of West African cocoa plantations, starving children are barely capable of balancing a hundred pounds of cocoa over their heads by using their stick-like legs to bring themselves back to plantations. All they’ve ever known is the routine to work from sunup to sundown with nothing in return and no family to support them. This is a situation that no first world child living in the United States could comprehend, but it is a reality for millions of children living in Africa; unwillingly putting their lives on the line for something people can’t seem to live without – chocolate.

Your favorite candies aren’t what you think.

Chocolate, in it’s most raw form, is found inside of the cacao pod. The beans inside the pods are harvested by farmers on plantations in Africa and South America. Beloved chocolate companies like Hershey, Nestle, and Mars purchase the beans and manufacture the chocolate products we see in stores. Consumers in America and Europe, however, don’t know the illegal, dark secrets that are hidden within the chocolate wrappers.

Around 70% of the world’s cocoa supply is derived from African countries like the Ivory Coast and Ghana. At the turn of the century, journalists captured proof of child trafficking, labor, and slavery on cocoa farms there. According to a 2017 issue of Paste Magazine, 90% of the 2.3 million children working in Ghana on cocoa plantations are slaves.

Children in Africa usually start working at a young age to try to support their families. Traffickers will trick children by telling them that the jobs pay well. Often, children are sold to traffickers by their families who are unaware of the poor living conditions and lack of education on the farms. It’s common for children that live in small villages of Mali and Burkina Faso, two of the poorest countries on Earth, to be abducted and sold to cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast, according to a 2010 documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate. These trafficked children never see their families again.

On cocoa plantations, not only do children work for extended hours, but endure savage living conditions to work through as well. Cocoa slaves use machetes to crack open cacao pods to get to the beans. Slaves usually have scars covering their bodies from the daily use of machetes, and other injuries including deep lacerations and severed fingers are also common. Children handle chainsaws to clear the forests and prune trees by climbing over nine feet into the air. Slaves also wear insufficient protection when they spray fields with hazardous chemicals. After cutting the cacao pods off trees with sharp objects, children have to carry bags of them, weighing sometimes over one hundred pounds, back to the plantations. According to the Food Empowerment Project, a former slave, Aly Diabate said, “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.” In cases of slavery, there is most often physical violence involved. Diabate elaborated, “The beatings were a part of my life. I had seen others who tried to escape. When they tried, they were severely beaten.” Besides whipping, reporters have collected evidence of farmers being locked up at night to prevent escape.

Besides dangerous manual labor, child cocoa slaves are deprived of what a majority of humans find as essential aspects of living such as education, food, and a bed to sleep on according to HI Connect. Owners feed the children the cheapest provisions possible, such as corn paste and bananas. Some farmers sleep in small windowless buildings on wooden planks. Moreover, the Ivory Coast is home to approximately 650,000 child slaves, and 84% of them have no access to education. This lack of education gives the children a very slim chance of recovering from the depths of poverty.

Furthermore, child trafficking and labor in the cocoa industry shouldn’t even be possible. In 2001, eight major chocolate companies: ADM, Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Ferrero, Mondelez, Mars, Incorporated, and Nestle signed a contract. It forbade the “worst forms of child labor” and “forced adult labor” after 2008. Yet these illegal acts are still occurring today, and giant chocolate companies haven’t made any major attempts to certify 100% of their products. Being a $110 billion industry, one would believe chocolate companies could afford to pay the producers of their cocoa.

If all of the chocolates you normally love to eat have derived from child slaves, then what chocolate do you eat? Unfortunately, companies tend to abuse “Fair Trade” logos. “Fair Trade” essentially means that chocolate companies give farmers a sufficient pay for the cocoa beans they purchase. For example, Hershey’s Bark Thins advertises as being “Fair Trade,” but if someone looks at the nutrition label, it says “65% Fair Trade Certified ingredients.” Instead, eat chocolate that is very specific about where it comes from, not chocolate from major companies with a very blurry production. See The Food Empowerment Chocolate List, for small company recommendations.

A book called Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves includes the words of Amadou, a former slave, “If I had to say something to them [chocolate eaters], it would not be nice words. They enjoy something I suffered to make. They are eating my flesh.” While the average American consumes 11 pounds of chocolate a year, a majority of cocoa slaves have never even tasted the luxury they suffer to make. Next time you rip open a chocolate wrapper, remember the pain and devastation that has been inflicted millions of cocoa slaves.