U.S. Markets open in 8 mins

Chocolate Companies Like Hershey, Mars and Nestlé Have a Child Labor Problem

Say Contributor
Two U.S. Senators have asked the Department of Homeland Security to block the importation of cocoa products harvested with child labor. Labor Laws The request from Senators Sherrod Brown and Ron Wyden come amid recent investigations into how widespread the use of child labor remains in Ivory Coast, the world’s leading producer of cocoa products, despite the pledges of the world’s leading chocolate companies, including Nestle, Mars and Hershey, to eradicate the practice. Pledges The link between American chocolate and child slave labor in West Africa has come under scrutiny over the past twenty years. When a measure to create a federal labeling system to indicate whether child slaves had been used in harvesting cocoa didn’t pass, the chocolate industry, adamant that it didn’t need federal regulation to fix the problem, compromised with the federal government. Missed Goals Top officials of Hershey, Mars, Nestlé USA and five other chocolate companies signed onto the Harkin-Engel Protocol and created the International Cocoa Initiative. This kept federal regulators at bay as long as the companies eradicated child labor from their supply chains and created standards of public certification. The companies missed their initial deadline of July 2005, as well as several subsequent ones. Fairtrade? One of the main problems for chocolate manufacturers is that while non-profits such as Fairtrade, amongst others, provide labels to products that have been produced according to their ethical standards, farm inspections are often sporadic and easily gamed. It doesn’t help that even today “chocolate companies still cannot identify the farms where all their cocoa comes from, let alone whether child labor was used in producing it.” This is a very sad, complicated problem, one compounded by widespread poverty. Though there are few clear-cut solutions, activists believe that companies paying more for their cocoa would be a good start, while the importance of fixing this problem hasn’t been lost on shareholders. -Michael Tedder Photo: Susana Gonzalez / REUTERS

Two U.S. Senators have asked the Department of Homeland Security to block the importation of cocoa products harvested with child labor. Labor Laws The request from Senators Sherrod Brown and Ron Wyden come amid recent investigations into how widespread the use of child labor remains in Ivory Coast, the world’s leading producer of cocoa products, despite the pledges of the world’s leading chocolate companies, including Nestle, Mars and Hershey, to eradicate the practice. Pledges The link between American chocolate and child slave labor in West Africa has come under scrutiny over the past twenty years. When a measure to create a federal labeling system to indicate whether child slaves had been used in harvesting cocoa didn’t pass, the chocolate industry, adamant that it didn’t need federal regulation to fix the problem, compromised with the federal government. Missed Goals Top officials of Hershey, Mars, Nestlé USA and five other chocolate companies signed onto the Harkin-Engel Protocol and created the International Cocoa Initiative. This kept federal regulators at bay as long as the companies eradicated child labor from their supply chains and created standards of public certification. The companies missed their initial deadline of July 2005, as well as several subsequent ones. Fairtrade? One of the main problems for chocolate manufacturers is that while non-profits such as Fairtrade, amongst others, provide labels to products that have been produced according to their ethical standards, farm inspections are often sporadic and easily gamed. It doesn’t help that even today “chocolate companies still cannot identify the farms where all their cocoa comes from, let alone whether child labor was used in producing it.” This is a very sad, complicated problem, one compounded by widespread poverty. Though there are few clear-cut solutions, activists believe that companies paying more for their cocoa would be a good start, while the importance of fixing this problem hasn’t been lost on shareholders. -Michael Tedder Photo: Susana Gonzalez / REUTERS