Candy is Not Fun For Everyone

Chocolate must be labeled as child labor-free so that it is easy for all consumers to know what they are buying.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Cover Image
By Lillian Zou

My teacher dumps a massive bag of Hershey’s chocolate onto his desk, and the class immediately goes out of control. He walks around the room, offering us as many pieces of chocolate as we wish. The only catch: Did you know that kids your age were illegally forced to harvest the cocoa in this candy? Students laugh uncomfortably while they look longingly into the bag. Very few actually reach for a piece. 

All around the U.S., large amounts of big-brand chocolate are bought—according to a National Confectioners Association (NCA) survey, 60 percent of Americans prefer chocolate to other popular Halloween candies. In addition, American consumers are predicted to spend $3.6 billion on Halloween candy this year. But none consider this question. Few know to even ask it.  

Halloween is a great example of how American culture, especially for children, centers so much around candy. Perhaps this is why our society tends to conveniently ignore the modern-day slavery that is used to produce our favorite chocolate bars. Our ignorance is mostly, of course, the fault of the chocolate companies, but also of the government and the media. To combat this, the government and the media need to identify companies that use cocoa, the beans used to produce chocolate, harvested by child laborers so that these companies are forced to manufacture their products humanely. 

The chocolate industry is booming—sales amount to around $103 billion annually—and the Ivory Coast and Ghana combined produce about 70 percent of the cocoa used to make different chocolates. In just these two countries, about 1.56 million children labor on cocoa farms. This includes children who have been trafficked into slavery. While the children are usually between the ages of 12 and 16, reporters have found some as young as five years old. Because of this, the International Rights Advocates, a non-profit group that fights crimes against humanity, has sued the U.S. government for not upholding a 1930 law that “prohibits importing any product that was mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part by forced labor, including forced or indentured child labor.” Yet still, North American consumers make up roughly half of the demand for chocolate, driving major chocolate companies towards ever-cheaper production methods to maximize profits. 

These children constantly use dangerous machetes to clear land and harvest cocoa beans, carry bags of cocoa that sometimes weigh more than 100 pounds, are exposed to toxic insecticides and pesticides, and often don’t have access to clean drinking water. In the Ivory Coast, about 30 percent of the children living on cocoa farms do not attend school. Though a 2015 law required children under the age of 16 to attend school, thus prohibiting labor under the age of 16, the law has had little real-world impact. Farmers simply cannot afford to send children to school, and the government has done very little to enforce these regulations. In addition, since few children have identification papers, it is difficult to verify how old they truly are. Due to extreme poverty, forced labor is also a part of Brazil’s cocoa industry.  

The harvest is sold to some of the biggest chocolate companies, such as Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé. These companies want to buy the cheapest cocoa in order to maximize profits, so they buy from farmers who use cheap labor. This keeps cocoa prices artificially low. Farmers are underpaid for their harvests, and thus, many of them are further forced to use children in their workforce.  

While these companies pledged to end child labor from their suppliers by 2005, child labor has only increased. They also clearly have no issues with forcing farmers to use the cheapest labor possible to try and earn a liveable profit. The situation is further complicated by the fact that children of poor farmers often have to help out when their parents’ cocoa farms don’t make enough money to hire laborers. Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé all source between 24 and 49 percent of their cocoa from such family farms.  

Another NCA survey found that when American consumers are asked to choose between “mainstream, premium, and fine chocolate,” 83 percent of respondents buy both mainstream chocolate (for example, Hershey and Snickers, which are both produced by companies that benefit from child labor) and other kinds. 

The U.S. government should create a no-child-labor-involved certification to place on cocoa products. Right now, people buy out of sheer ignorance—but if everyone is confronted with the label, it’s much harder to buy the package. Current chocolate certifications are issued after announced inspections on cocoa farms, and they rarely visit more than 10 percent of the farms in Africa, which gives farmers ample time to hide any breaks in regulation. Certification organizations must conduct surprise inspections regularly and at random. As it is, consumers rarely research what they buy, but even if they do, the chocolate industry makes it difficult to find the truth through its advertising and media influence. If the government passed legislation that encourages stores to sell only properly sourced chocolate, it would be easier for customers to do the right thing. It would also alienate companies that profit from child labor. It is much harder to justify buying something that has been manufactured inhumanely when on-package labeling points a finger at the inhumanity.