There are few foods as universally loved as chocolate, but the sweet treat has also made a place for slavery in the modern world. Each year, over 7.3 million tons of chocolate products are consumed each year, and the demand is always going up. In the U.S. alone, the chocolate industry sells over 20 billion dollars of candy bars, chocolate, and chocolate-infused products. While it’s often used to celebrate the holidays or to delight kids, some of the biggest chocolate producers rely on child slaves to harvest their cocoa. Here at Dr. Foodle, we’ve written about how chocolate is made, but who’s making it is a much darker story.
In 2001, the BBC released the documentary The Bitter Truth and exposed the horrifying origins of much of the world’s chocolate: children were being bought and sold to harvest cocoa pods, weren’t paid, and were owned by various farms. It’s hard to believe that slavery still exists in the world, and much less used for such a seemingly benign product, but there’s the truth. All across the Ivory Coast – where 60% of the world’s cocoa is produced – reliance on child slaves to produce cheap cocoa powder is all too common. Since the BBC brought this story to mainstream audiences over a decade ago, there has been a lot of change on paper, but not so much in practice. Some of the world’s biggest chocolate producers – companies like Nestle – have been implicated in buying cocoa products that were harvested using child slaves. While it might seem like an overly evil move for a corporation to employ child slaves, it’s actually very complicated and often occurs unknown to the purchaser of these products.
Part of the reason why the chocolate industry is able to use slavery is because of the sheer number of hands that cocoa goes through in becoming chocolate. There are over 600,000 cocoa plantations on the Ivory Coast, and in many of the countries where these plantations are operated, the government has very little influence over the cocoa producers. Cocoa is bought and sold countless times before it becomes a chocolate bunny or candy bar; one person collects the pods, someone else dries and roasts the beans, someone else makes it into powder, etc. Because of this, it makes managing the industry very difficult. Despite this, there have been many reports, laws, and public interest in ending slave labor in producing chocolate.
Companies like Nestle are actively working at trying to make a change, as are various governments and advocacy groups. However, while there is a lot being said, child slaves are still a profitable route from many plantation owners to take. Some advocacy groups are claiming that these measures are simply ineffective and more of an attempt to save face than to really make a change. The counter-argument is to say that it’s a slow process, and the more it’s discussed allows for change to occur. As consumers, we all have the power to research where our foods come from and maybe think twice about buying chocolate that’s produced in the Ivory Coast.