What Do You Mean There’s Child Slave Labor in my Chocolate?

NOTE from Roxanne Bradley President of Learning Differences World:

This post is not directly related to Learning Differences. However, we at Learning Differences World support the needs of all children.

Valentine’s Day is around the corner and U.S. stores have been stocking up on chocolate since Christmas. If you plan on going to a local grocery store to purchase some cheap chocolate, you might be surprised that you’re probably doing more harm than good. Your Valentine might be happy with your purchase, but the children who work on the cacao farm that made it, will not. If Valentine’s Day is about love, then why are children in West Africa shedding blood, sweat, and tears working to meet the demand of chocolate being sold the month leading up to Valentine’s Day?

Well, here’s why.

According to Morkes Chocolates, the average American consumes between 10 and 12 pounds of chocolate per year. From a global standpoint, approximately 48 million pounds are sold during the week of Valentines.


Children around the world are being kidnapped, sold, and forced to be modern day child slaves in the chocolate producing industry. While kids in first world countries are enjoying chocolate, kids in West Africa have to pick and harvest cacao beans under horrific conditions. In fact, child slavery in the chocolate industry is a sad reality that a huge number of children in West Africa face every day. American and African governments have made attempts to fix the issue, and slavery in West Africa is illegal; still, many children are suffering as you read this. Big name companies only buy cacao from middle men, who refuse to pay a reasonable price to cacao farmers. Owners of cacao farms are paid such an insignificant amount, they cannot afford to hire actual workers to harvest the cacao. Although it is wrong, it is not surprising that poor farmers take advantage of child labor to supply the ever-growing demand for this delectable treat. Many children are subjected to this kind of work purely because of our appetite for inexpensive chocolate. Because of the middle man process, big name companies can claim to be unaware of the fact that child slaves are harvesting the cacao that they are buying.

Activists support buying Fair Trade products, but this is not a true solution. Fair Trade involves a third party and additional fees to purchase a Fair Trade Certificate. The solution to ending child slave labor in the chocolate industry is to stop buying chocolate from “big name” companies and start buying Direct Trade chocolate from small trustworthy companies. Direct trade means exactly how it sounds, the maker of the chocolate will buy their bean directly from the growers. When the maker buys directly from the growers, the growers can negotiate a fair price for their labors. This practice does not guarantee that the growers do not use slave labor, but it does encourage the growers to hire workers.  So, make sure you are buying from someone you can trust. (I did some research myself and the trustworthy places I found can be found at the bottom of the article).

The 2008 documentary, Chocolate – Not So Sweet exposes what child slave labor looks like in West Africa. The film shows that children as young as nine years old are experiencing work conditions that would be excruciating even for an adult. The process of harvesting cacao beans starts with the Theombra trees. Theombra trees are actually quite frail, and the roots are so shallow that to climb the trees is dangerous. Because the children can’t reach the cacao pods from the ground, they climb the trees carrying large bladed machetes to cut the pods down. After they are cut from the trees, the pods are put into baskets and carried to breaking stations. The health risks that children may experience simply from carrying the cacao pods the distance between the harvesting areas and the breaking stations are: neck and back injuries due to carrying heavy loads on their heads; poisonous snake and insect bites from walking through the forests without shoes; and fungal infections on their feet.

When the pods arrive at the breaking station, the children will, again, use large blades to break the pods open to harvest the beans. If the children happen to slip, they may cut themselves, creating open lacerations which will lead to infections or tetanus. If not broken properly, the children risk ruining the beans and being punished. After the beans are scooped out of the pods, they are taken to drying/fermenting areas by foot. Unfortunately, this also causes neck and backbone misalignments and deformities from carrying the heavy weight on their heads, and extreme exhaustion, as well as dehydration. When the beans are finally ready to be bagged, large amounts are poured into cloth sacks at one time. This causes dust and dirt to fill the air, forcing the children who perform this task to constantly inhale it. Something that may seem harmless, such as picking cacao pods and scooping out beans, is accompanied with many dangerous risks, especially for young developing children.

As a consumer, what can I do to help?

Research and reward companies with ethical integrity in their supply chains. Boycott big-name companies that you probably see in the front aisles of your grocery store like Nestle, Cadbury, Hershey, Mars, Ferrero, and Mondelez who will not divulge their trading practices.  If a company can tell you how the farmers and workers that produced your chocolate were treated and where the cacao came from, chances are they are a credible source, especially when you can buy Direct Trade. When you buy Direct Trade, you:

  • Bypass the companies with unethical standards
  • Insure a living wage to farmers
  • Cut out the middle men

Together, we can help stop child slavery in West Africa through buying Direct Trade chocolate and boycotting big name chocolate.

Campaigns to end child slavery in the chocolate industry:

Anti-Slavery Campaign

Not For Sale Campaign

World’s Finest Chocolate Campaign

Direct Trade Places to Purchase Chocolate:

Nova Monda




How DO the big 5 rank?

Chocolate Facts by Morkes Chocolates

Rooting out child labor in the chocolate industry, Safety and Health Hazards by the International Labour Organization.

Chocolate Not So Sweet After All – The Ivory Coast Story

The Dark Side of Chocolate, documentary by Miki Mistrati and U. Roberto Romano.

From bean to bar: Why chocolate will never taste the same again by Matt Percival, CNN

What’s more fair than Fair Trade?