The Hidden costs of Chocolate

Picture this scenario: you are at your local grocery store. To get to the meat aisle, you have to walk past the dazzling array of confectionery all decadently arranged for our benefit. Because let’s face it, those cunning bastards in marketing know how to grab at our imagination and cravings. The things you need to buy (as per that well-written shopping list) float out of your head as you look at the gorgeous little red wrapped Kit Kat sitting on the shelf at 20% off. You deserve a break, you tell yourself. After all, you’ve been working your arse off lately. What’s wrong with a little treat for yourself now and then?

Such a small piece of chocolate-y goodness. As your teeth sink down on those beautifully coated wafers, you thank God (or whichever omnipresent deity you choose or choose not to believe in) for chocolate. Minuscule impact on diet and weight. Maximum impact on satisfaction and taste buds. But what if I told you that each bite of chocolate you take condemns a child to 14 hours (or more) of hard labour a day. Yes, that’s right. Like with everything, there is a hidden cost to that little piece of goodness you take for granted. And it certainly ain’t pretty.  

FACT: By consuming chocolate, we are supporting child labour

Ever stopped to wonder why the price of chocolate is relatively cheap? Never? Well, maybe it’s time you do. Chocolate does not magically appear on grocery store shelves – it is a painstakingly laborious and dangerous process. The cocoa bean is very far removed from the finished product of chocolates that we snack on. Although cocoa beans can be found in parts of Western Africa, Asia and Latin America, 70% of cocoa exports come from Western Africa, namely Ghana and the Ivory Coast. 

You would think that cocoa farmers are minting money, what with chocolate being such a wanted commodity. Think again. Cocoa farmers make a little less than $2 per day (on average). A typical job description of a cocoa farmer would be:     


Duties and responsibilities include:

  • Scale cocoa tree to cut down bean pods
  • Clear forested area for land use
  • Pack bean pods and transport pods to designated area
  • Open pods to extract cocoa beans
  • Spray crops with chemicals to prevent infestation

Skills, abilities and other requirements:

  • Excellent physical health – bags of bean pods often weigh up to 100 pounds
  • Ability to use and manipulate dangerous equipment such as machete, chainsaw, chemical spray, etc.
  • Ability to work 14 hour days (typical workday begins at 6:00 am until late)

In order to cut costs even further, children are used to work the cocoa farms. Can you imagine your 12 year-old attempting to cut open a cocoa bean with a machete? Heck, most mothers I know would scream bloody murder if they saw their child holding a knife, much less a dangerous weapon that can seriously maim and wound. But there you have it, halfway around the world, there is a child risking his or her life right this minute – just so we can enjoy a bit of chocolate.

FACT: The chocolate industry condones human trafficking

Some might argue that this is the way economy works and that the cocoa industry in these poor countries are creating jobs for the locals. Yes, some children do seek jobs at these farms in order to earn money for their impoverished families. However, these children are still entitled to reasonable working conditions, fair wages as well as opportunities for education. The children at these farms are definitely not getting any of the above. They are considered lucky if they are rewarded for their labour. (And if you think about it, it’s sad when $2 for a full day’s work is considered above the norm).

Then, there are children who are lured into employment or sold to farms with the promise of good pay. Worse are those abducted from neighbouring countries – such as Burkina Faso and Mali – with the sole purpose of working on these farms. Imagine being wrenched away from family and forced to work without pay? Yes, slavery still exists in the 21st century, as much as we would like to turn a blind eye to the fact.

All this then begs the question: what is the chocolate industry doing about this? In 2001, the chocolate industry via the Engel-Harkin Protocol promised to step in and eradicate child poverty by 2005. This date was further pushed back to 2008 and when that year rolled in, industry bigwigs signed a new treaty (‘The Declaration of Joint Action to Support Implementation of the Harkin-Engel Protocol’). Don’t know about you but this seems like bullshit to me. If these multimillionaires were as serious about eradicating child labour and slavery in their industry as they were about increasing their profit margin, they would have made a significant stance towards this cause. 

In case you’re wondering, these are the main players in the chocolate industry: Hershey, Mars, Nestle, ADM Cocoa, Godiva, Fowler’s Chocolate, Ferrero and Mondelez (formerly Kraft). Go take a quick peek at your pantry and/or fridge. If any of these brands are in there, you’ve just unwittingly contributed to child labour. Let’s take a look at what some of them have (or are purported to have done) so far:

Hershey - Launched a 5-year program worth $4 million to train West African farmers on best practices in farming and labour. Plans to produce 100% certified cocoa by 2020

Godiva - 100% sustainable sourcing of cocoa supply by 2020

Nestle - Help farmers run sustainable farms, aid in improving social conditions and boost long term production of sustainable cocoa

Ferrero - Pledged to eradicate forced labour in cocoa plantations

Mondelez - Involved in Cocoa Partnership Scheme to improve farming practices in the industry

FACT: Children love their sweets

But my child loves chocolates, you wail, and how else on earth am I able to reward them when they’ve been good? Do you sense the irony here? In another time and place, your child might be the one beaten and prodded to work the fields. In this modern age, why should children still have to be exploited because of the greedy antics of fucking rich businessmen and pig-ignorant consumers who prefer to turn a blind eye towards these practices? I leave that to your conscience to determine. Perhaps the next time your child throws a tanty, thank God that they are safe in your arms rather than cutting cocoa beans open with a machete. And instead of a chocolate bar, try calming them down with something else.

I think that we’ve come too far as a human race to not want to do something about these social injustices that come to our attention. You can choose to do something about these causes. Maybe not as big as the lawsuit three Californian residents have filed against Hershey, Mars and Nestle for ‘deceiving consumers into unwittingly supporting the child slave-labour trade’. Perhaps the words of one former child labourer sums the issue up the best: ‘They (consumers of chocolate) enjoy something I suffered to make; I worked hard for them but saw no benefit. They are eating my flesh.’

Yen Li Wong