Taking a Bite Out of Child Labor

Child Labor prevention programs in the cocoa sector have been slow to start, and insufficient.
Our new “Big Chocolate” Scorecard looks in to what’s happening now.  

child labor cocoa fieldNGOs and news outlets in the West first shined a light on the issue of child labor and extreme poverty among cocoa growing communities in West Africa in the early 2000’s. Since then, major chocolate companies, and the chocolate buying public, have become aware of these ongoing problems.

Yet despite this awareness, and many promises by the chocolate industry to address the problem of child labor, a report released in July 2015 commissioned by the United Stated Department of Labor showed that hazardous child labor in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire is a growing problem. The report found over 2.1 million children across both countries to be conducting hazardous tasks to harvest cocoa. A recent expose in Fortune magazine brought renewed attention to the sustainability efforts of the biggest chocolate industry players.

Starting in 2009, several companies began to make commitments to ethically certify their cocoa, as a means to trace their supply chain and deliver farmers a slightly higher price per ton—an important step to addressing one of child labor’s root causes: poverty.

Cocoa certification in West Africa, through Fair Trade International, Fair Trade USA, Utz Certified, or Rainforest Alliance, has led to some improvements for the farmers involved, but certified cocoa still only represents a fraction of the 3.5 million tons of cocoa sold worldwide.  Additionally, in terms of impact, not all certifications deliver the same benefits to farmers. Only the Fair Trade certifications guarantee a minimum price to farmers, as well as a guaranteed premium payment of $200 USD per ton.

In addition to certification, some chocolate manufacturers have launched their own programs to attempt to prevent child labor in their supply chains. Simultaneously, these chocolate companies are looking to avoid the looming cocoa shortage, as some analysts predict cocoa demand could outgrow supply by 2020. To ensure the future supply of cocoa, most companies have launched sustainability and productivity projects; however very few address child labor specifically. While productivity trainings to increase farmers’ yields seem like a logical argument to increase farmer incomes, this approach often does not take into account additional labor needed to harvest the extra crop—whether that’s in the form of hired day laborers, or children or women working without pay.

In order to tackle the persistent problem of child labor in the cocoa sector it must be addressed head-on, through community-based child labor monitoring and remediation systems. This means that any program touted to be fighting child labor must not only be educating farmers about the problems of child labor, but also regularly looking for child labor. That’s the monitoring part. When child labor is identified there must be clear and swift procedures to ensure the child is removed from harm and appropriate authorities are notified. That’s remediation. Offending farmers must establish a plan and timeline to correct this behavior. If the problem is not corrected a responsible company should choose to cease working with this farmer. Fair Trade International certification includes a child labor monitoring and remediation program. And Nestle, in partnership with the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), is rolling out a community-based child labor and remediation program, with a goal of covering all its farmers by the end of 2016.

Learn More:
Our “Big Chocolate” scorecard looks beyond certification, at six of the largest chocolate companies’ efforts to address child labor in their supply chains. This scorecard can help you choose consciously as you purchase your next chocolate treat, and more importantly, can help you raise your voice to the world’s largest chocolate brands, to let them know you expect your favorite chocolates to be made without child labor.

Take Action:
One company that’s not included in the “Big Chocolate” scorecard, but is found in many malls and convenience stores, is Godiva.  Owned by Yildiz, Godiva is not one of the top six chocolate companies by size, but it does sell significant amounts of chocolate in the US, and it lags behind many of the larger companies in its commitments to address child labor in its supply chain.  Sign our petition to Godiva calling on the company to stop lagging behind its competitors in preventing child labor in its cocoa. 

Looking for Better Chocolate Options?
While the major chocolate companies still have work to do to address child labor in their supply chains, many smaller brands already offer fair trade options—which means they have long-term, direct relationships with their farmers and guarantee a minimum price. Check out these brands here.

Organic Cocoa, From Ghana with Love

On A Recent Visit To Ghana, I Met With Some Of The First-Ever Ghanaian Organic Cocoa Farmers.

organic cocoa
Organic certified cocoa from Ghana.

Five years ago, if you wanted to buy an organic chocolate bar, you would have had a hard time finding one with cocoa from anywhere in West Africa. Despite the fact that the region is the largest producer of cocoa in the world, providing raw cocoa to companies like Hershey, Mars and Cadbury, it simply did not have organic certified cocoa farms. In Ghana, for example, which supplies roughly 30% of the world’s cocoa, the government long reserved the right to apply pesticides on all cocoa farms in the country to prevent plant diseases they feared could threaten the entire harvest. And, while fair trade production—which limits the use of certain chemicals—launched in Ghana in 1995, organic was still an impossibility for almost two decades.

Recently, however, things have started to change, and several industrious Ghanaian farmers are producing some of the first organic certified cocoa in in the country. Late last year I had the chance to visit Ghana for a series of meetings focused on boosting farmer incomes—an issue we’ve advocated for at Green America for years. At the meetings I was able to meet dozens of cocoa farmers from throughout West Africa. Many of these men and women had produced cocoa their whole lives, and came from long lines of cocoa farmers—so they were experts.

Farmer Francis Otu explaining cocoa production.

Francis Otu is one of the farmers I met. Francis has been cocoa farming for a long time, but started using organic methods in 2006. He is a member of Cocoa Organic Farmers Association (COFA). Located in the Brong Densuso area of Ghana’s Eastern Region, COFA is the first organization producing organic cocoa in Ghana. COFA has four communities (clusters of farms) owned by over 600 different members. Even though Francis started using organic insect repellents in 2006, such as neem, it was not until more recently the government blocked off COFA’s communities from regular pesticide treatments. Combined, members of COFA own 1250 acres of land, which equates to roughly 950 football fields that are no longer being treated with chemicals.


Cocoa pods up close.

Cocoa farming, organic or not, is intense work. Unlike large-scale farms here in the United States that sprawl for acres and rely on machines, cocoa farms are typically are very small, just 3 to 5 acres, and must be harvested by hand. At first glance, the farms don’t seem like farms at all, but forests. On the farm I visited during my visit, the cocoa trees were well spread out; their branches created a cool and quiet canopy for all of us standing below, and the ground was covered in dead leaves. These leaves, which I initially imagined had fallen randomly, were actually part of the farmers’ pest-prevention measures, staving off weeds from growing in the ground.

Francis is passionate about organic farming and using no synthetic chemicals. When I asked why, he stated, “because it is healthier for me, as the farmer, for my land, and for the consumers in Europe who buy my cocoa.” After the three year transition period required to obtain organic certification, he can also make more money. “It’s very difficult to make a living as a cocoa farmer, but as an organic farmer it’s a little better. I make a premium of 20 cedi per bag I sell.” (roughly $5).

Inspecting fermenting cocoa beans.

Cocoa pricing is always a little confusing. In Ghana, COCOBOD, the government’s central cocoa marketing branch, sets the price of cocoa each year. For this growing season, the price was increased to 420 GH¢ per 64kg bag, or $105. Francis and his peers then earn $110 per bag. From conversations I had with several of the farmers attending the conference, it seems 1 acre of land can yield about 4 bags per year, which for most farming families would equate to only $1680 annually. The Cocoa Barometer found that most cocoa farmers in Ghana and their children live on just $0.86 per day, well below the global poverty line of $1.25/day. Child labor, a symptom of extreme poverty, has been a known problem in West African cocoa fields for more than a decade. In a 2015 survey, Tulane University, commissioned by the US Department of Labor, found that more than 2 million children in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire work in hazardous conditions growing cocoa, such as burning fields, applying agrochemicals, carrying heavy loads, and not attending school.

drying cocoa
After the cocoa pods are picked, and the beans inside fermented, they are laid out to dry in the sun.

While organic certified cocoa does command a higher price than conventional, if there is no buyer interested in organic, the cocoa will be sold as conventional. Francis explained that though he started using organic methods nearly a decade ago, earning certification and finding buyers took many years. Right now, COFA sells its cocoa to a Swiss chocolate manufacturer, but still has no US buyers. When I asked what would help Francis and his peers most he said, “more direct relationships with buyers so that we can make long-term investments in our farms and maintain quality.”

Globally, organic cocoa production is still a minute portion of all cocoa sold. The ICCO estimates that just 15,000 tons of more than 300 million tons is grown under organic conditions, or .05%. And less than 30% of this cocoa comes from West Africa, according to the FAO. However, the emergence of organic cocoa in Ghana could not come at a better a time. Consumer demand for organic products is growing at a strong pace, cocoa included. According to Euromonitor International, global organic chocolate sales were estimated to have nearly doubled from $171 million in 2002 to $304 million in 2005.

francis trees
Francis pointing out one of his cocoa trees.

The purpose for my visit to Ghana was to learn from farmers what challenges they face and what it would take to make cocoa farming a long-term, profitable livelihood for farmers. Cocoa farmers throughout West Africa live in extreme poverty—malnutrition, remote homes, no access to schools, and no regular income–despite the world’s voracious consumption of chocolate. At the meetings, Francis declared to all of us that “just like a cocoa tree needs nutrients like water and sunlight to survive, so too do cocoa farmers. If cocoa farmers can not earn a decent income for their work, there will be no chocolate.” For our part as consumers, we have a delicious job to do—buy and eat more organic and fair trade certified cocoa, to support all the men and women who pick each and every pod.

Check out our Chocolate Scorecard to find organic and fair trade chocolates, and to find out which companies are lagging behind.

Photos by Emilie Schoots and Elizabeth O’Connell.

Chocolate is Big Business on Valentine’s Day

Between the  gifts for sweethearts and the cards for colleagues, Americans spent nearly $19 billion on Valentine’s Day last year, according to the National Retail Federation. Part of that spending, a whopping $1.7 billion, was spent on just candy and chocolate. It’s likely that 2016 could yield similar figures.

But how much of this money makes it’s way back to cocoa farmers?

Cocoa Infographic v3Annually, the global chocolate industry commands more than $83 billion.  Since most chocolate on store shelves in the United States comes from West Africa, Green America has been persistently pressuring US cocoa companies to step up and take care of the workers—and child laborers—in their supply chains.

This infographic traces the conventional cocoa supply chain in an effort to show where the majority of the money consumers spends on a chocolate bar ends up.

Purchasing fair trade chocolate from companies that have more direct relationships with farmers is important, as is ongoing pressure on manufacturers, processors, and traders, to improve the situation for farmers and their families.

Check out our Chocolate Scorecard to find organic and fair trade options for your loved ones this Valentine’s Day.

Click here to download the 1-page version of our Infographic.

The End of Chocolate?

Chocolate Too Cheap to Be Sustainable. Farmers Making as Little as 50 Cents Per Day. Inadequate Responses Mounted So Far to Address Very Serious Problems.These are the findings of our new report: The Cocoa Barometer

Cocoabarometer2015_2Our new report, available online at www.cocoabarometer.org, is being released as cocoa industry representatives gather in Washington at the World Cocoa Foundation conference to discuss ongoing sustainability projects.  I will be in attendance as well, calling on companies to do more.

The Cocoa Barometer found that unsustainably low cocoa prices – made possible by extreme poverty among West African cocoa producers, with farmers in Ghana earning as little as 84 cents per day, and Ivorian farmers earning only 50 cents per day – could jeopardize the future of chocolate, since young farmers are not replacing the current aging generation. Together, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire produce more than 50% of the world’s cocoa supply.

Additional key findings in the 2015 U.S. edition of the report include:

  • Low incomes. West African cocoa farmers live well below globally defined poverty level of $2 per day. The lack of a decent livelihood for cocoa farmers leads to bad labor circumstances, human rights violations, and many other problems in the cocoa supply chain, including child labor.
  • Cocoa no longer offers an attractive future. Increasingly, younger generations of cocoa farmers are leaving cocoa, and older farmers are nearing the age of life expectancy.
  • High market concentration leads to greater farmer exploitation. Mergers and takeovers have resulted in just a few companies dominating up to 80 percent of the whole value chain, while farmers lack a sufficiently organized voice to be strong actors.
  • Certified chocolate production continues to increase globally, from just 2 percent reported in the first Barometer in 2009, to almost 16 percent of global chocolate sales in the 2015 “Cocoa Barometer.” The Barometer also indicates that there is far more certified cocoa available at the moment, than is being purchased on certified term. However, with the mainstreaming of certification, the challenges of certification are also increasing. Improvements in certification are needed, especially concerning impact on the ground, the quality of auditing, and unrest among farmers about low payments of premiums.
  • Current approaches won’t solve the problem. Most corporate sustainability efforts focus on increasing a farmer’s productivity. However, increasing yields must be coupled with an increased cocoa price for farmers. This means that chocolate needs to become more expensive. Crop diversification, tenure security, better infrastructure and access to information for farmers are also needed.

The report contains the following recommendations for action:

  1. Develop a living income model for smallholder cocoa farming.
  1. Address the price-setting mechanisms in order to increase prices at farm-gate level.
  1. Move from voluntary to mandatory sector-wide solutions.

Cocoabarometer2015_3Around the world, child labor is a symptom of extreme poverty and limited opportunity. In order to prevent children from working in dangerous settings, we must ensure that farmers, including women, sharecroppers and tenant farmers, are earning enough to harvest cocoa sustainably. All players in the cocoa value chain need to step up to the plate. Companies, governments, retailers, as well as consumers should take their shared responsibility, and truly start looking for new approaches to some of these longstanding problems.

Read the full report at www.cocoabarometer.org.

The Cocoa Barometer, produced by a network of European nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) is a semi-annual report that reviews the state of sustainability in the cocoa sector. This latest edition was written in partnership with Green America, International Labor Rights Forum, and Oxfam America.

Hershey’s Kisses Will Get A Makeover By 2016

2016 hershey barsHershey announced yesterday it will source enough certified and sustainable cocoa in 2016 to surpass the amount of cocoa required for the global production of four of its most popular chocolate brands including:

  • Hershey’s Bars
  • Kisses
  • Kit Kat(United States only)
  • Brookside

This announcement comes a little more than a month after Hershey announced it would transition to “simpler ingredients” in its products, including switching the sugar used in two of its flagship products (Hershey’s Bars and Kisses) from genetically modified sugar beets to sugar cane, which is non-GMO.

That means that by 2016, some of Hershey’s most iconic products, perhaps even Hershey Bars and Kisses, will not only be non-GMO, but also ethically certified as being made without child labor.

This is a huge win for consumers. For years, conscious “deep green” consumers have been pushing Hershey and other major food companies to make their products more responsibly, with a particular focus on farmers and the environment. In fact, Green America and our allies led the “Raise the Bar Hershey!” campaign and organized tens of thousands of consumers to come together and pressure Hershey to address the worst forms of child labor in its supply chain.

In October 2012, Hershey announced it would ethically certify all of its cocoa by 2020, following in the steps of other chocolate companies like Mars and Ferrero. Hershey also committed to reaching 50% by 2016, and announced in January 2015 that the company is ahead of schedule to meet this goal. Hershey’s recent announcement is another sign that Hershey is following through on its commitment to source 100% ethical chocolate by 2020.

On the non-GMO side of things, Hershey is now the leader amongst big candy companies. While Nestlé announced recently it would remove artificial flavors and dyes, it has not committed go non-GMO for any of its products or ingredients. Additionally Mars has yet to announce any non-GMO candy options.

Hershey and its competitors would be wise to continue the trend toward simpler ingredients across their offerings. According to Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, consumer food preferences are shifting quickly towards healthier options; and more than ever before, consumers are actively searching for organic and fair trade options that align with their values.

Check out our Chocolate Scorecard to find fair trade and organic chocolate options for your chocolate fix>>

Spotlight on Hershey, 2 Years Later

Have a heart hersheyExactly two years ago, Hershey announced it would source only ethically certified cocoa by 2020. This announcement came after years of pressure on Hershey to prevent child labor on West African cocoa farms from Green America members and our allies Two years later, we’re checking on Hershey’s progress and on how these commitments have impacted cocoa growing communities. But first, a little back story… 2000-2009

Young boy rakes cocoa beans on a drying rack.
credit: International Labor Rights Forum

In 2001 the world was shocked by stories of horrific forced child labor in West African cocoa growing communities. In response, a “slave-free” label was proposed by US lawmakers. The chocolate industry defeated this proposal and instead signed on to the Harkin-Engel protocol, to voluntarily fix child labor in their supply chains. A decade went by with the industry missing deadline after deadline to stop child labor, as their profits soared. Very little progress was made to prevent child labor among most major chocolate companies. September 2010 Green America and our allies grew tired of waiting for big cocoa to act on its own to fix child labor. We launched our Raise the Bar, Hershey! Campaign, calling out Hershey, the largest US chocolate manufacturer, as a laggard in addressing child labor problems in its supply chain. In 2009, Mars had already committed to sourcing 100% sustainable cocoa by 2020.

anti hershey rally
credit: Celery Street Blog

September 2011 With growing consumer awareness and outrage, Green America published “Still Time to Raise the Bar” to keep the pressure on Hershey[1]. The report called out Hershey’s failure to address child labor and other labor abuses in its supply chain (a topic that Hershey failed to mention in its own corporate responsibility report). The report acted as a catalyst for tens of thousands of people to write to Hershey. Consumers and religious allies took part in protests at Hershey stores, and investors called on the company to address child labor as well. January 2012 rainforest alliance hersheys bliss certificateGreen America and our allies planned to run a Super Bowl add targeting Hershey for child labor. In response, Hershey agreed to purchase Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa for its Bliss chocolate products[2] August 2012 Consumer pressure continued to escalate on Hershey, and retailers started putting pressure on the cocoa giant as well. Green America united food coops, specialty retailers, and Whole Foods to voice their concerns regarding child labor in Hershey products. Whole Foods agreed to drop all Hershey products from its stores. October 2012 Hershey announced it would ethically source 100% of its cocoa by 2020, but does not disclose an incremental timeline or which certification it will use.[3] March 2013 In response to ongoing pressure, Hershey shares it plans to worker with Fair Trade USA, Utz and Rainforest alliance for certification, and that it will reach 10% certification by the end of 2013, 40-50% by 2016.[4] January 2014 Hershey announced it was ahead of its original goal, reaching 18% certified cocoa[5]. Today: Green America is pleased that Hershey has followed through on its plan to move to certified cocoa, and is in fact ahead of schedule. Eight years is a long time in the life of a child, so the sooner Hershey can purchase cocoa that comes from farms that screen out child labor, the better. Child labor remains an urgent issue in West Africa’s cocoa sector, and one that stems from extreme poverty. The average income of West African cocoa farmers and their dependents is well below the level of absolute poverty, according to the Cocoa Barometer.  Poverty is a major driver of child labor. In order to address the extreme poverty faced by cocoa farmers, chocolate companies must develop long-term relationships with the farmers they purchase from and pay prices that cover the farmers’ cost of production, including the costs of additional hired labor and necessary fertilizers. The added benefit of chocolate companies paying a higher price for their cocoa is that it guarantees the future supply of chocolate, for chocolate companies and all their chocolate loving consumers. Two years after Hershey’s announcement to ethically certify its chocolate products, we’re celebrating the impact consumers can have when they band together to make change happen! Over the next two years, we’ll continue to monitor Hershey, to ensure the company meets or exceeds it 2016 commitment of 50% certified. We’ll also put pressure on companies who have not taken steps to trace their cocoa supply, like Godiva. Thank you for taking action with us! [1] http://www.greenamerica.org/PDF/Still-Time-to-Raise-the-Bar-Hershey-Report-2011.pdf [2] https://www.greenamerica.org/about/newsroom/releases/2012-02-01-Hershey-Will-Offer-Certified-Chocolate-Following-Consumer-Driven-Campaign.cfm [3] http://www.thehersheycompany.com/newsroom/news-release.aspx?id=1741328 [4] http://www.thehersheycompany.com/newsroom/news-release.aspx?id=1798984 [5] http://www.thehersheycompany.com/newsroom/news-release.aspx?id=1894137

We did it! Hershey commits to certification. The fight against child labor continues.

After more than two years of calling on Hershey to address child labor issues in its supply chain, we have big news to share—Hershey announced yesterday it will be going 100% certified by 2020.  While this commitment seemed to come out hastily and in response to pressure from Whole Foods Market, there have been thousands of individuals who joined our Raise the Bar, Hershey! campaign to turn up the heat on Hershey for lagging behind all of its major competitors when it comes to tackling child labor in its supply chain. Supporters across the country emailed and phoned Hershey, went to protests, and educated their friends and families about Hershey’s child labor issues.

For more on how this campaign victory came to pass, read on…

Continue reading “We did it! Hershey commits to certification. The fight against child labor continues.”