The cocoa industry has a pervasive problem with child labour, with more than 2.1 million children engaging in hazardous work in the sector last season in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. This number of child workers is higher than in 2010 — the year when big companies like Mars, Nestle, and Hershey’s all pledged to reduce the worst forms of child labour by 70% in 2020. Although, it could be argued that the increased production and prices of cocoa lead to the rise of child workers.

Photo from Raconteur "Men and young boys working on a small cocoa farming commune near Abengourou, Côte d’Ivoire"

Children are often illegally trafficked and forced to work away from their families on strangers’ farms. Conditions are considered hazardous, with 50% of children reporting injuries. These children spray toxic pesticides on crops without any protective gear, lift very heavy loads of cocoa pods, and use dangerous tools such as machetes. Aside from the actual conditions, the fact that they are working means that they are not going to school, which negatively impacts their future livelihoods.

Luckily, Tony’s Chocolonely has become a driving force of change for the chocolate industry. It’s a great alternative because it produces delicious chocolate (an obvious must) but most importantly because it is on a mission to make chocolate 100% slave-free, including the worst forms of child labour (outside of the family). In order to do so, the company invests in long-term partnerships with farmer cooperatives, pays cocoa farmers a higher price and helps train them in agricultural knowledge to improve productivity. Plus all their cocoa is traceable and they report on this transparently so the whole world can see where their chocolate comes from. Plus the idea is that all companies will follow suit, which is really important considering how massive some chocolate companies are… and how much of a profit they make selling chocolate.

Wider schemes also exist to ensure that there has been no use of child labour in the chocolate we eat. For instance, UTZ has a programme for eliminating child labour in cocoa farms. They focus on prevention, education, monitoring and remediation.