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Why Child Labor Continues in the Chocolate Industry

Despite pledges by the global cocoa industry to eliminate the use of child labor by 2020, the number of children employed in such work appears to have actually increased in countries like Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.

Mondelez International, formerly known as Kraft Foods, owns Cadbury. Fresh allegations and video footage depict children working to farm the cocoa that many enjoy during Easter, even though Mondelez decries the use of child labor and has programs in place to prevent it.

This difficult problem is faced by many of the world’s leading producers of chocolate, including Mars, Hershey, and Nestlé.

Video Spotlight:  

This post is based on The Guardian article, Cadbury faces fresh accusations of child labour on cocoa farms in Ghana, by Joh Ungoed-Thomas, April 3, 2022; the Mashed article, The Untold Truth Of Tony’s Chocolonely, by Jacob Smith, May 16, 2022; and the YouTube videos in the Spotlight. Image source: feije/123RF

Discussion Questions:

1.  Why does the problem of child labor persist, despite two decades of pledges by members of the chocolate industry to eradicate it?

Guidance: The root problem underlying the use of child labor is the poverty of the farmers themselves.   There are no easy ways to fix this endemic problem.  Faced with increasing costs of their crops and with cocoa prices fixed by the government, they often cannot afford to hire adults.

Laws exist in Ghana that prohibit children under the age of 13 from working and those under 18 from doing hazardous work.  Nevertheless, children are often found doing work such as using machetes to open cocoa pods or harvest them from trees.  While a small percentage of the children are trafficked in from other countries such as Burkina Faso, many are the children of the farmers themselves.  Without the help of their own children on these small family farms, the farmers could not make ends meet.

Thus, it is a perplexing ethical dilemma, as farmers have to choose between following the law and not employing their children or not being able to grow and harvest their crops and feed these same children.

2. What other factors have made it difficult for farmers to conduct their operations without relying on children?

Guidance: Laws prohibit farmers from using new land to plant cocoa trees.  Continuing to farm existing land requires the use of more chemicals and fertilizers.  Now more expensive than ever due to global shortages and rising energy costs, these fertilizers are hard for farmers to afford, and the prices they are paid for their cocoa do not keep up with the increasing costs.

It is also more time consuming and labor intensive to have to rework existing land than it is to slash and burn to create new farmland, so these costs are adding in as well.

Since farmers often receive only a few dollars a day for their work, they cannot afford to hire adult workers.  While the use of trafficked children is clearly illegal and wrong, some might question whether the use of one’s own children in such a situation is the only viable option.

Nevertheless, chocolate companies are sponsoring  many initiatives to try to encourage children to go to school, to teach better farming practices to farmers, to teach them how to rotate crops and not be entirely dependent on cocoa, and to plant shade grown trees, which have higher yields and last longer.

Still, it seems that all their millions of dollars of investment have fallen short of solving the problem of child labor in this industry.

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