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:
"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."
*Correction: Hershey made $6.1 billion in net sales, but the net income was only $629 million.