Every Valentine’s Day, Easter, birthday, and Christmas, many of us in the United States like to give chocolate to friends and/or family. Most of us look forward to getting that sweet goodness during those times of year.
For better or for worse, I’m about to sour that sweetness because of some ugly truths about slavery and chocolate.
Namely, there is a good chance that the chocolate you eat was made by slaves. But not just any slaves. Child labor.
A variety of sources have widely reported on how the three major American chocolate manufacturers—Hershey, Nestlé, and Mars (the makers of M&Ms)—all produce chocolate made with child labor. It has been a persistent problem, and a problem that isn’t getting resolved quickly.
Fortune Magazine best describes this problem in an article they wrote about the issue:
“The major chocolate companies—from Mars to Nestlé to Hershey—are heavily reliant on these countries for their cocoa supply. Most of the cocoa is produced on small farms by farmers living in extreme poverty. That poverty often leads to child labor. In 2001, after persistent media reports about child labor abuses and trafficking stirred outrage, the chocolate industry pledged to end the practices in Ivory Coast and Ghana by 2005. But progress has been slow.”
To give context on just how slow the progress has been, the article said that the industry made the pledge to end child labor by 2005. Fortune wrote this in 2016. Yes, you heard it: twenty freaking sixteen, eleven years after these companies promised to get their acts straight.
These companies, among others, have repeatedly broken their promises to end these practices. This is unacceptable.
But what can we, as regular people, do to end these practices? Especially if we don’t have the power to singlehandedly end these practices of child labor?
We must start by voting with our wallets, by refusing to buy chocolate that is made with child labor. I know it is tempting to buy those Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or a Nestlé Crunch when you’re about to check out at the grocery store or drug store, but we should do all that we can to resist this temptation. Even if just one of us refuses to buy chocolate made by slaves, that one person is taking is taking an important moral stand. But if millions of us take that stand, we can hurt the profits of these companies until such point that they hopefully turn their backs on child labor.
But that’s not the only thing we can do. If you are a restaurateur or a college that owns and operates your own dining services, you can refuse to use products in your food from chocolate companies that use child labor. If you are an educator, educate yourself and your students on the fact that slavery still exists and helps produce some of the food we eat. If you invest in stocks, refuse to invest in companies such as Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé—if people sell stocks (or refuse to buy stocks) from companies like these en masse, in protest of their child labor practices, that can effect much more change than what I can do on this small but growing blog. Regardless of what your profession is (if any), there’s a chance that you can do more than simply refuse to buy your favorite candy bar at the grocery store.
As an alternative, we should instead buy, and invest in, cocoa that is not made with child labor. By purchasing chocolate which is Fair Trade Certified or is “Bean to Bar,” then the chocolate is generally not made with child labor. These companies, not companies which use child labor, should get our money.
However, I acknowledge that it takes a level of economic privilege to afford anything other than the cheap chocolate at the grocery store, and that people might not be able to afford excluding themselves to Fair Trade chocolate. For people in this position, I encourage you to reduce your chocolate intake as much as possible. Anyway, even without the issue of slave labor, chocolate is not the healthiest thing in the world! It just so happens to be that so much chocolate is being made with child labor. As a result, there is even more motivation than there would be otherwise to avoid many of the mass-marketed and mass-produced chocolate brands.
Yes, it is a not-so-sweet truth that child labor exists in the production of so much of the chocolate we eat. However, I remain hopeful that we can all do something to confront this problem.