Back in 2017, when I first started learning about chocolate and cacao farming, I was floored to read reports that 1.7 million children were working on cacao farms in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Children as young as 5 being involved in dangerous farming activities. Spreading harmful chemicals without protective equipment, harvesting cacao with machetes!!! Yes as young as 5 years old! We’re not talking about kids coming home from school, pitching in doing a few chores at their parents farms. No, children being kept in camps, working 10-12 hours shifts, as part of the regular cacao farming workforce.
In 2010, large cacao and chocolate companies have committed to eradicate such practice. I had faith that although it was taking a very long time, things were going to change, soon, eventually. Right? The report is out. It is actually getting much worse! Ghana and Ivory Coast produce roughly 90% of all cacao in the world. There are now 2 million children working on cacao farms!!! 2 million, let that sink in! These children represent 41% of the cacao farms workforce! I wish I was making this up. I applaud the very few farmers in these countries who have found the way to make the shift to hire adult workers and pay them a living wage, but the problem is widespread and getting worse.
Where is this cacao and chocolate going you might ask? Big chocolate companies have been very clever in hiding the truth from all of us, consumers. It is found throughout our whole food chain! It’s in your chocolate ice cream, chocolate muffin, chocolate confections, candy bars, milk chocolate, baking chocolate, chocolate cookies, chocolate smoothie... Check your pantry. It’s everywhere. This is the worst kind of modern day slavery you can imagine, affecting the most vulnerable on Earth! Just because large chocolate companies don’t want to pay a fair price for cacao so that farmers can afford to pay a living wage to their workers. What would be the cost to us to change this? It would cost us, consumers, 10 cents per candy bar. We can do that, right? Are we willing to pay ten cents more?
It’s up to us to help these kids. They don’t have a Twitter account or cameras to show us the horrific lives they live. This report is our only window to see the magnitude of the abuse that is taking place. 2 million children. What will it take?
It’s up to all of us to question the origin of cacao and chocolate. It’s up to all of us to leave on the shelves that candy bar, that chocolate drink, that bag of cookies. And it is certainly up to all of us chocolatiers, bakers , pastry chefs, manufacturers to buy the more expensive, but fair-trade chocolate at wholesale markets, then explain to us consumers that their price increase reflects their commitment in eradicating child labour in West Africa.
It’s up to us chocolate makers to develop relationships with cacao farmers to make sure this is not happening, finding partners such as MABCO who will go the extra mile to not only make sure our cacao beans are not tinted with child labour, but also pay fair trade price so that we become part of the solution to stop child labour in cacao farms.
Once that cheap chocolate isn’t selling anymore, things will change. What will it take? 2 million and counting!