The Real Cost of Cocoa

Chocolate manufacturers are not doing enough to stop child labour

Pile of chocolate pieces

Via peter pearson, flickr

By Siavosh Moshiri, Staff Writer

Our love affair with chocolate doesn’t seem to be subsiding any time soon. In America alone, the value of Cocoa imports has increased consistently over the past decade and currently stands around 4 billion dollars. It also constitutes a major part of certain West African countries such as Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire; nearly 75 percent of the world’s cocoa comes from that region. Unfortunately, this industry has been known for child labour issues for some time now.

In 1998, A UN report claimed that a large segment of the cocoa labour force in Cote d’Ivoire is made up of enslaved children from neighbouring African countries. This revelation and a few others lead to political pressure being put on ‘Big Chocolate.’ Soon after, the issue lead to the signing of the Harkin-Engel Protocol by the major chocolate companies such as Nestle and Cadbury. Mediated by U.S. Representative Eliot Engel and Senator Tom Harkin, the corporations involved agreed to a number of conditions including:

– Acknowledging the issue of child labour in their businesses and now promising to address it

– By 2001, form an advisory group that will look into possible remedies for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour

– By 2002, establish a non-profit foundation that will bring together both industry and non industry professionals to help

– Develop certification and standards that make sure that the goods produced are not the result of such forms of labour


Chocolate exporters and manufacturers say the recent civil war in Cote d’Ivoire and its aftermath have hampered their efforts to eradicate child labour.


The results of this agreement fall far short of reality. A 2011 study by Tulane University found that major partners in this deal had made few strides in many of the proposed goals. For example, the certification process that was to make sure that the products were properly made is still being implemented across all companies and is still much too vague to make an impact. Another issue is that there have been no real attempts made at formulating remedies against the illegal practices of enslaving children and selling them into forced cocoa labour camps.

Chocolate exporters and manufacturers say the recent civil war in Cote d’Ivoire and its aftermath have hampered their efforts to eradicate child labour. They also point out the fact that they have all pledged 2 million dollars to fund a new project to help identify proper regulations that are in line with international labour order standards.

Critics are unimpressed, pointing out the fact that this donation is miniscule in size, especially when one considers that the marketing budget of each individual company is well over a billion dollars. Certain activists hope that these negotiations and funding will help fuel the rise of fair trade chocolate, or at the very least chocolate that shows consumers through labels that they were made through a proper process.

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