DEVELOPMENT | Chocolate: Sweet Treat, Bitter Reality


Child Labourers Working on Cacao Farm Taken from Forbes
Most of us remember receiving chocolate treats as kids (I especially loved the Hershey’s Kisses my mom bought during the holidays), receiving heart shaped boxes of chocolates at Valentine’s as we got older, baking and eating chocolate fudge brownies and moist chocolate cakes, and drinking delicious cups of hot chocolate – mini marshmallows anyone? The gift, the impulse buy, the snack in our drawer at work. When you think about it, chocolate has played a prominent role in most of our lives: treats on our good days and tubs of ice cream filled comfort on the bad days/post-breakup depressions. 

Chocolate is produced and sold throughout the world, even in North Korea where Coca Cola hasn’t yet penetrated the market. But there are some who have never before seen a chocolate bar and who can never afford to purchase one. The sad truth about most chocolate is that it is all a sweet façade – a front for a history of exploitation and abuse beginning in the eighteenth century when European aristocracy became addicted to our favourite sweet treat compliments of the Aztecs, and persisting to this day as smallholder farmers in some of the least developed countries produce cocoa for next to nothing to meet rising international demand.
Credit: International Labour Rights Fund
The dark side of the chocolate industry was first brought to the world’s attention in the early 1900s by Henry Nevinson who discovered while on assignment in Angola that the contract labour employed in cocoa production post-abolition was in reality another form of slavery, with young boys and girls the unwilling, beaten and shackled participants. The key players in the chocolate industry at the time – including the abolitionist Quaker owned company, Cadbury – did nothing. 

Throughout the decades that followed, a number of journalists and researchers dared to tell the world the truth about the cocoa industry, sometimes facing persecution, verifying the existence of human trafficking, child slavery and rampant corruption in the industry. But the big chocolate companies do a good job of ensuring that we don’t hear or listen. They consistently refuse to ensure themselves or via third parties (such as a Fairtrade certifier) that their chocolates are not the indirect product of modern day slaves – adults and children who are regularly beaten, lack access to basic human rights and are not provided with protective gear against toxic pesticides and other chemicals used in the fields.

To put it into perspective: Two West African countries, Ghana and the Ivory Coast, supply 75% of the world’s cocoa market and these, along with other countries, are some of the biggest offenders of International Child Labour Laws. Some children end up on the cocoa farms because they have to provide for their families, whilst others are sold by traffickers and relatives. Many are abducted from villages in neighbouring countries like Burkino Faso & Mali and have no way of getting back.


Growing up we would have never thought that the sweet treats we devoured within minutes came from children our age or younger, toiling in tropical heat, with little or nothing to eat, likely to never taste a bar of the chocolate made by their sweat, blood and tears. The price we pay for a small bar of chocolate is many times more than they will earn in a year. But we’re adults now and we can do something about it. While big chocolate companies continue to turn a blind eye, we can support small chocolate companies who engage in ethical practices to ensure that their products are free from child and slave labour and that farmers receive a fair price for their cocoa beans. We can do our research, buy from Fairtrade certified chocolate companies and encourage our friends and families to do the same.

And for the ethical consumer living in a country where such chocolates can’t be found? I was on my last hoorah up until my birthday, which was yesterday, when I gave up on my slave-made faves, Twix and Snickers, and any products from the companies that have historically refused to engage in ethical practices. That means Cadbury’s, Hershey’s and Mars Inc. Wish me luck!

This article has been written by our very first Guest blogger, Cristel C

Cristel is from Guyana, but currently lives in Malawi where she is a Renewable Energy Consultant for Hestian, working on the development of carbon financed projects in East Africa. Cristel has decided to give up Chocolate unless it is fairtrade (unfortunately, she has access to none in Malawi).

Stay tuned for our future post on Fairtrade Chocolate.

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