Follow-up Friday: Slaves to Chocolate

Halloween is almost here. What treats do you buy? Do you buy treats at all? At our house, the go-to is chocolate, and right now Kit Kat bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups strategically placed by the grocery checkout stands are mighty tempting. Should we buy them?


In 2012, I wrote about the chocolate industry’s dependence on child slavery. At the time, things were looking up. Congress had passed laws designed to stop child trafficking in the chocolate industry. The public was alert to the problem. Fair Trade standards and certifications had been developed, and affordable, slave free chocolate was showing up at grocery stores.

How have we done in the 7 years since?

Not good.

“Child labor in the cocoa industry will continue to be a struggle as long as we continue to pay farmers a fraction of the cost of sustainable production.” Bryan Lew, from Washington Post magazine, Cocoa’s child laborers

In 2001, Congress tried to improve the market for cocoa farmers and help end child slavery. “There is a moral responsibility . . . for us not to allow slavery, child slavery, in the 21st century,” Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.). Congress passed a bill with a small amount of funding for federal regulation to certify fair trade chocolate.

Industry response?

“We don’t need legislation to deal with the problem,” Susan Smith, then a spokeswoman for the Chocolate Manufacturers Association. “We are already acting.”

Congress gave industry the benefit of the doubt and negotiated a deal in which Hershey, Nestles and Mars promised to voluntarily source chocolate from farms with humane working conditions.

Four years later Susan Smith reported, ““We have met every deadline established in the protocol agreement, and we’ll continue to do so. We have large-scale tests of the monitoring system and the independent verification system in place. Those are going on now.”

That was not true.

Fourteen years later it’s still not true. Today, about 2 million children do the back-breaking work of farming and harvesting cocoa beans. A little more than half work on their own families’ farms, where parents don’t have enough money for food, let alone school fees. Many of the rest are bussed in from poorer countries like Burkina Faso and Mali, paid little or nothing, sometimes beaten, never see their families, are poorly fed, never go to school, and work long hours.

The good news: under the FairTrade America program, farmers get a 15% premium above negotiated prices. This isn’t enough to raise cocoa farmers out of poverty, but it helps.

There are companies who pay more. Tony’s Chocolony, a Dutch company, pays farmers 40% more than the going rate. They say it only raises the cost of a chocolate bar by about 10%.

Here’s a list of other companies selling Slave Free Chocolate. Buy chocolate from them, and from other certified Fair Trade brands. The more fair trade products we buy, the more encouragement we give to corporations to carefully source their chocolate. And remember: when you’re eyeing mega bags of Reese’s Pieces this Halloween, there’s an ugly reason why they are so cheap.

Update to Slaves to Chocolate, February, 2012


  • Good post, Julie, and there’s really no excuse for not buying Fairtrade (or fairly traded) bars these days. (In England, our supermarkets all stock a wide variety of Fairtrade). As well you know, Hershey (rarely available here), Nestles and Mars only produce inferior product, in chocolate terms. Their bars scarcely can be deemed ‘chocolate’ in any meaningful sense, as the bulk of them comprise anything but. Still, it’s ethics over teeth, I get you. (P.S. send me those surplus Kit-Kats of yours, will you?) 😉


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