Child slavery in West African cocoa production is a big problem. The U.S. State Department estimates that over 109,000 children work in the cocoa industry under the “worst forms of child labor,” and about 10,000 of them are victims of human trafficking and slavery. The Fair Labor Association released a report in July, commissioned by Nestle, which found that child labor is still all too common on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, where 35 percent of cocoa is grown. “Children are at risk in every phase of cocoa production,” the report states. Those risks include injury from machetes while preparing the land, maintenance of the farm and harvesting cocoa beans, physical strain while nursing and planting seedlings, carrying heavy loads and exposure to chemicals while applying fertilizers and pesticides.
If a group of 41 consumer-owned grocer cooperatives and natural food retailers operating 62 stores have their way, the largest chocolate company in the U.S., The Hershey Company, will not be producing chocolate tainted with child labor. The group released a letter this week urging The Hershey Company to commit to sourcing cocoa which is produced under fair labor practices. The letter was released at Patriot News Online and the Raise the Bar, Hershey campaign site.
Hershey committed to ethically source what the letter refers to as a “small amount of the company’s overall chocolate” through Rainforest Alliance certification of its Dagoba and Bliss lines. However, as the letter puts it, that does not “erase the fact that Hershey’s profits are earned at the expense of children.” In contrast, other chocolate companies have committed to ethically sourcing much more cocoa:
- Mars and Ferrero committed to ensuring that 100 percent of their cocoa supply is ethically sourced by 2020
- Nestle is working with the Fair Labor Association to look at child labor in its supply chain
- Kraft/Cadbury committed to certify one-quarter of its Cadbury Dairy milk chocolate bars as Fairtrade
“Hershey’s apparent unwillingness to commit to purchasing significant amounts of ethically sourced cocoa is puzzling considering that several of your major competitors have made already significant commitments to buy independently-certified, ethical cocoa.”
Hershey pledged to a $10 million investment by 2017 in West African cocoa programs, which amounts to $2 million a year. Hershey’s CEO, John Bilbrey was paid $10.6 million in 2011, and that same year, the company posted $6.1 billion in profits.* Other companies have pledged much more. Nestle announced in 2009 it would invest $110 million over a 10 year period to help sustainability initiatives, including those that address child labor in cocoa. Barry Callebaut, a large cocoa processor and trader, launched a $41 million cocoa initiative last March to improve farm productivity and family livelihood in major cocoa producing countries. Blommer Chocolate Company, the largest cocoa processor in North America, recently announced plans to invest $45 million into cocoa sustainability projects by 2020.
*Correction: Hershey made $6.1 billion in net sales, but the net income was only $629 million.