The world’s largest chocolate producers rely on West Africa–especially the Ivory Coast and Ghana–for cocoa. The combined GDP for both countries is just a fraction of the billions of dollars in sales that international chocolate companies like Nestle pull down annually. Cocoa is generally produced by farmers living in extreme poverty, and child labor is common on the majority of cocoa farms. Children are often sold into slavery by their parents or kidnapped. The average work week can last from 80 to 100 hours and while working on the farms, these children receive no salary or education. The living conditions are brutal, as children are often beaten and rarely well fed.
Tulane University conducted a study in the 2013-2014 growing season that revealed approximately 2.1 million children were involved in objectionable labor practices on cocoa farms in both Ivory Coast and Ghana. In 2015, three California activists filed a lawsuit against Hershey, Mars, and Nestle for not advertising that their products were made using child labor but the likelihood of that civil action suit coming to fruition is slim. This past September, Nestle commissioned a report from the Fair Labor Association (FLA) which presented the following results:
Researchers visit 260 farms used by the company in Ivory Coast from September to December 2014. The researchers found 56 workers under the age of 18, of which 27 were under 15…Researchers from the FLA, which was commissioned by Nestlé to investigate workers rights on its west African farms in 2013 amid international pressure, found child workers at 7% of the farms visited. Nestlé’s code of conduct prohibits the use of child labour in its supply chain.Though researchers found Nestlé had made substantial efforts to inform farmers about its code of conduct, awareness of the code was low among farmers, with farmers sometimes unable to attend training sessions due to either “lack of interest or time”. The FLA also found that farms lacked any kind of age verification system for workers.
Ferrero has not commissioned a similar report but because almost all of the major chocolate providers rely on the same farms within Ivory Coast and Ghana, concerns from critics allege that conditions are similar on their farms. Ferrero has called out for an end to child slavery and forced labor, but if farmers are ignoring that call to action, like those interviewed for the FLA report, then the company many not be on track to meet its 2020 goal.