In Agriculture-related Industries, Especially Chocolate, Child Labor Is Prevalent. Why Is That?
Chocolate child labor is a significant issue, especially in West Africa, where about two-thirds of the world’s cocoa supply is grown.
According to a 2015 U.S. Labor Department report, over 2 million children participated in dangerous labor in cocoa-growing regions.1 Vivienne Walt of Fortune magazine reports: “About 1.56 million children—many as young as five—are engaged in the back-breaking work of harvesting cocoa for that chocolate in Ivory Coast and Ghana. Those two West African countries together supply about 70% of the world’s cocoa beans, the raw ingredient for the bars and treats made by the likes of Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé.”2
On average, a cocoa farmer earns less than $2 a day, so they resort to child labor to survive and stay competitive in the market. The Food Empowerment Project explains:
“Often, traffickers abduct the young children from small villages in neighboring African countries, such as Burkina Faso and Mali, two of the poorest countries in the world. Once they have been taken to the cocoa farms, the children may not see their families for years, if ever. … Some of the children use chainsaws to clear the forests, and other children climb the cocoa trees to cut bean pods using a machete.”3
The child laborers are often treated poorly, given little to eat and no access to clean water or bathrooms. Many are beaten when they try to escape. These farms have numerous safety hazards, including agrochemical products.
Chocolate companies worldwide were given deadlines to uproot 70% of the child labor from their cocoa supply chains. They missed deadlines in 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2020. Part of the problem is that companies cannot identify the farms where their cocoa is grown. For example, Mars can only identify 24% of its supply.
What can you do to help? GFA World is committed to providing alternatives to child labor. Through a child sponsorship model, families living in poverty are empowered to keep their kids in school. Children in the program are provided with resources such as nutritious food, clean water, educational help, school supplies, and other helpful items that alleviate the family’s financial burden. When needs like these are met, the parents can more easily keep their children in school.
1 Whoriskey, Peter and Siegel, Rachel. “Cocoa’s Child Laborers.” Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/business/hershey-nestle-mars-chocolate-child-labor-west-africa/. June 5, 2019.
2 Walt, Vivienne. “Big Chocolate’s child-labor problem is still far from fixed.” Fortune. https://fortune.com/2020/10/19/chocolate-child-labor-west-africa-cocoa-farms/. October 19, 2020.
3 “Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” The Food Empowerment Project. http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/. February 2019.
* Cover photo by Adam Cohn, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)