Quick Cocoa Facts:

  • 5 to 6 million cocoa farmers world wide
  • 40 to 50 million people depend on cocoa for their livelihood
  • Percentage of cocoa that comes from West Africa: 70 percent.
  • Cocoa growing regions: Africa, Asia, Central America, South America (all within 20 degrees of the equator).
  • Current global market value of annual crop: 5.1 billion dollars.
  • Estimated 1.8 million children are at risk for falling under the Worst forms of Child Labor conditions set by the UN (ILO 182).
  • There are over 27 million slaves in the world today. Of them over 9 million are children.
  • Children are being trafficked in everyday to work on cocoa farms as slaves. The average cost for a child is $250.
  • The candy companies admitted that they knew this was a problem and promised to fix it. But they didn't.

The Problem

Forced labor affects the entire world. In many places, human beings are a commodity.  Children are used and discarded.  These practices are well-documented in the cocoa industry.

We don't oppose the manufacture of chocolate.  We don't want to boycott chocolate manufacturers or even tell you what brand of chocolate to buy.  We don't want you to feel guilty.  But we want you to be aware of how to responsibly and ethically purchase chocolate if you decide to.

The Politics

In June of 2001 the US House of Representatives voted to consider a labeling system to assure consumers that slave labor was not used in the production of their chocolate. The US chocolate industry responded with an intense lobbying effort to ward off legislation that would require “slave free” labels on their products. The Chocolate Manufacturers Association hired two former Senate majority leaders, Bob Dole and George Mitchell, to lobby lawmakers against the labeling requirement.

The US Chocolate Manufacturers Association maintained that a “slave free” label would hurt the people in West Africa by leading to a boycott of all West African cocoa, and therefore, not contribute to the abolition of slavery in that part of the world. It was said that chocolate producers could not say absolutely that none of its chocolate was produced by slave labor because beans picked by free workers were mixed in with those produced by slaves. The chocolate companies maintained that they were not responsible for the slavery in Africa because they have no control over the cocoa farms. 

Media articles brought public attention to the issue, and with imminent federal regulation looming, the chocolate industry finally agreed to take action in 2001. In November 2001 the US chocolate industry released a Protocol and Joint Statement outlining their plans to work toward eliminating child labor and forced labor in cocoa-producing countries, particularly West Africa. 

The Harkin-Engel Protocol, facilitated by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), aimed at eliminating the worst forms of child labor by 2005. It was signed by the Chocolate Manufacturers Association and the World Cocoa Foundation.  It was also signed by the major manufacturers, including Hershey’s, M&M Mars, Nestlé, World’s Finest Chocolate, Blommer's Chocolate, Guittard Chocolate, Barry Callebaut and Archer Daniels Midland. The Protocol was then endorsed by the Côte d’Ivoire government, the child labor office of the International Labor Organization, Free the Slaves, the Child Labor Coalition, the International Cocoa Organization and the National Consumer League.

The Harkin-Engel Protocol commits the chocolate industry to work with the non-governmental organizations to monitor and remedy abusive forms of child labor in the growing and processing of cocoa beans. It has been said that this Protocol does not force the industry to change enough: that it addresses only the symptoms of child slavery, not the causes, which include the nature of payments to cocoa growers and corruption in the supply chain. Without more thorough measures to address these issues, it is difficult to ensure that abusive child labor on cocoa farms will cease permanently. 

Shortly after the Protocol was signed, the Child Labor Coalition released a statement acknowledging the industry's initiative but suggested that the industry commit to ending exploitative labor practices on cocoa farms all over the world, not just West Africa.

The Protocol is also not binding.  The U.S. government could simply enforce existing federal laws against the importation of products made with forced labor, such as Section 307 of The Tariff Act of 1930, which mandates that the U.S. Customs Service refuse entry to any product made "in whole or in part" by forced or indentured labor.

President Bill Clinton's Executive Order No. 13126 in 1999 prohibited federal agencies from buying products made by enslaved children.  Slave Free Chocolate helped insure that the product list include cocoa.  However, it did not include derivative cocoa products--like chocolate.  If it had, the Department of Defense would be obliged to stop spending $1.6 million per year for the chocolate included in soldiers' ready-to-eat meals.

There are international laws as well; the UN Convention on Children's Rights contains a protocol addressing child slavery and defines Worst Forms of Child Labor.

The Causes

West Africa produces over 67% of the world’s crop of cocoa beans. The Côte d’Ivoire grows 43% of the total world cocoa crop, where there are over 600,000 cocoa farms. Two-thirds of cocoa produced worldwide is thought to be grown by small holders. The economies of the West African governments depend on cocoa. Nearly 40% of the population of the Cote d’Ivoire is involved in cocoa farming, and 40% of the total earnings exported from the Cote d’Ivoire come from cocoa.

According to the Prime Minister of the Côte d’Ivoire, multinational chocolate manufacturers have encouraged developing nations to grow more cocoa, forcing down prices and driving cocoa farmers to take desperate measures just to save their land. He told chocolate manufacturers that they would have to pay about 10 times as much for cocoa as they currently do if they want to end the use of forced labor in cocoa production.  

At the time the Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed, cocoa prices were at an all-time low. The Côte d’Ivoire's government-run board had been protecting the country's farmers since 1955 by setting a minimum price at which they'd export their product, but this government-regulated industry was privatized in 1999. The resulting fall of cocoa prices in 1999 and 2000 greatly increased rural poverty, reduced government spending for healthcare, and reportedly led to "the widespread use of cheap child labor."  Debt repayments in developing nations also direct money away from basic services such as health care and education.  Half of the world’s 52 Highly Indebted Poor Countries have a high incidence of workers laboring under slave conditions.

Under this economy, farmers with no concept of the world market, free trade or commodities brokers were left to fend for themselves. Working mostly in isolation on small family farms, the farmers did not, and still do not, have the means to communicate among themselves about the market prices for their cocoa. They operate at the mercy of buyers, who pay cash and haul away their cocoa beans, the farmers being unable to afford trucks themselves.

Producer income remains low because there have been no steps taken to ensure stable and sufficient prices for cocoa producers. World cocoa prices fluctuate substantially and have been well below production costs in the last decade. Though cocoa prices have shown moderate increases in the past few years, cocoa producers remain mired in debt accumulated when prices were below production costs. Typically, producers also get only half the world price, as they must use the exploitative middlemen to sell their crop. Low payments made to the plantation owners contribute to the spread of slavery. 

Both the US State Department have and the International Labor Organization reported child slavery on Cote d’Ivoire cocoa farms. In the 90's, research by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture indicated that though child slavery was limited, other abusive forms of child labor are unfortunately widespread. Hundreds of thousands of children perform dangerous tasks on cocoa farms, using machetes, lifting and carrying heavy loads, working with pesticides unprotected.  There is no access to medical care.  At least 12,000 child cocoa workers have come to their present situation through trafficking, sometimes from neighboring nations like Mali and Burkina Faso.

In today's market, prices are rising somewhat.  But the farmers have not benefited as they lack access to shipping and are not able to get their product to open market and negotiate on their own behalf.  Groups like Global Exchange and Save the Children insist that without minimum pricing to ensure a steady income, farmers are not likely to make major changes in pay and labor practices on their farms.  Some companies choose not to buy from West Africa at all, believing that any cocoa from that part of the world may involve forced labor.  Unfortunately, this pressure can drive prices further down.

We in the rest of the world enjoy the fruits (literally) of unfair and often brutal labor practices. We look for bargains and don’t stop to ask why our products are so cheap. By always looking for the best deal, we may be choosing slave-made products without knowing it.


Outside the Cote d’Ivoire, some farmers are guaranteed a minimum price for their cocoa. They belong to Fair Trade Certified producer groups. These collectives are made up of democratically managed farms. There are 20 collectives in nine countries--Ghana, Cameroon, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Belize and Peru--representing thousands of farmers. 

Chocolate manufacturers and importers who buy Fair Trade cocoa sign a contract with the Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International, committing to pay the co-op farmers the Fair Trade price (the world market price plus a premium) that guarantees a living wage and extra money to the co-op community. Farms are inspected once each year and abusive labor practices are not tolerated.

However, Fair Trade Certified licensees produce only a small amount of the world's chocolate. And only a small percentage of cocoa farmed by Fair Trade Certified collectives is sold at the Fair Trade price.

Because organic farms are subject to an independent monitoring system that checks labor practices, organic chocolate is also considered slave free.


There are over 27 million slaves in the world today.  Of them over 9 million are children.  At least 179 million children are exploited by hazardous work; 246 million children aged 5-17 are child laborers.  Between 2000 and 2004 the number of slaves worldwide decreased worldwide by 11% while during the same period the number of people used as slaves in Africa increased by 49%. 


Thousands of Malian children were trafficked and sold into indentured servitude on Cote d’Ivoire plantations. In September 1998, a private Abidjan daily newspaper exposed the widespread practice of importing and indenturing Malian boys for field work on Ivorian plantations under abusive conditions. Mali was not the only source of forced child labor used in the country. (US Dept of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 1999, 25 February 2000) 


Children from Benin have been taken to Nigeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, and Gabon. There they are sold into servitude in agriculture, as domestics, or as prostitutes. (US Dept of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 1999, 25 February 2000) 


Children are trafficked from and through Cameroon to other West African countries for indentured or domestic servitude, farm labor, and sexual exploitation. (US Dept. of State, Trafficking in Persons Report, July 12, 2001) 


Togolese citizens are trafficked to Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Nigeria, the Middle East (specifically Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), and Europe (primarily France and Germany) for indentured or domestic servitude, farm labor, and sexual exploitation. (US Dept. of State, Trafficking in Persons Report, July 12, 2001.) 

The Profession

Chocolate manufacturers claim that they were not aware of the human issues of cocoa production until the late 1990’s.  Representatives from major chocolate companies have personally told Slave Free Chocolate that the problem does not exist. Others acknowledge that it does exist, but that it is not their problem and respond in irritated disgust that the issue just intrudes into their business. 

Surprisingly, some professional chefs and pastry chefs also deny responsibility.  Sometimes they're loyal to a supplier, or attached to low prices.  And it's easy to look the other way.

But professional chefs have a real opportunity to effect change. Pastry chefs have an especially strong vested interest in the use of cocoa and chocolate and new media channels in which to broadcast their interests.

Working together

Slave Free Chocolate is committed to raising awareness through direct publication and through media contacts, to maintaining a dialogue with industry and government representatives on working solutions to unethical labor practices, and to collaborating with other organizations like CREER-Africa to bring medical services, education, and housing to displaced children.  We would love you to join us and support these efforts, and we appreciate your time, your thought, and what resources you can bring to help make real and lasting change.