Buying chocolates for Mother’s Day

May 7, 2022

Were they made by child slaves?

Cocoa is the essential ingredient for making chocolates.  A significant proportion of the world production of cocoa is grown and harvested on plantations by African slaves.

These slaves are on cocoa plantations in remote rural areas in West Africa.  Some of the chocolates and drinking chocolate which we buy is made using slave cocoa.  The slaves are beaten by the overseer.  They are not fed properly.  They work long hours.  They are locked up in a slave barracks at night.  They are beaten and often killed if they try to escape.

The problem for consumers is to know the difference between slave cocoa and free cocoa.  Obviously, no manufacturer labels its product as “Cocoa Grown With Slave Labor”.

As a result of a mission by one of the Society’s agents to West Africa, the Society is compiling a list of slave cocoa products.

As a rule of thumb, the cocoa purchased by the more expensive chocolate manufacturers tends to be free cocoa.  However, there is an exception.  If the manufacturer experiences an unexpected surge in consumer demand and purchases cocoa on the spot market, there is a significant risk that a proportion of the purchase might have come from plantations in West Africa which grow and harvest cocoa using slaves or unfree labor.

Conversely, as a general rule of thumb, there is a risk that the cheaper chocolates (which are often “No Label” brands and the like) have been manufactured using cocoa purchased on the spot market, a proportion of which may be slave cocoa.

Since the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire (the largest exporter of cocoa with plantations were slaves work), exports from that country have decreased and cocoa prices have increased, so that there has been a decline in the use of slaves on the plantations.

The issue which confronts the Society and its supporters today is similar to that which confronted early abolitionists.  John Woolman refused to use sugar because it had been produced by slave labor (there was only a small amount of sugar produced by free labor imported from British India, and it was of inferior quality).  James and Lucretia Mott supported the Free Produce movement, boycotting candy for the same reason.

The material in this report is based on a Mission to West Africa by the Society’s Secretary-General.

US-based Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Hershey Foods, Swiss-based Nestle and Britain’s Cadbury Schweppes and other leading producers jointly make more than $100 billion annually from chocolate.  They are making making efforts to eliminate the problem.