Chocolate is a thriving business, and big companies make a lot of money selling it. The chocolate industry is worth a whopping 135 billion dollars, and it continues to grow. However, as these big companies continue to gain bigger market shares and higher profits, millions of cacao farmers bear the costs––earning less and less each year, well below the international poverty line.
Cacao doesn’t grow just anywhere. The trees need hot, humid climates. That’s one reason that nearly 70% cacao trees are grown in West African countries. However, most of the money is earned after the beans leave the farmers and only when they reach the Global North, where the beans are processed and made into chocolate as we know it.
Back on the cacao farms, farmers and their workers scrape by with an average income of less than $1.25 a day. The disparity is shocking. Cacao farmers in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Ghana alone make 60% of the world’s cocoa but earn only 3-6% of its retail value.
On this amount, they cannot afford the basic necessities. They have little food, water or shelter. They cannot afford to send their children to school and are often forced to send them to work on cacao farms for another source of income. They work to survive, and their families depend on it.
Unfortunately, the industry takes advantage of the situation. Much of the cacao harvested for mass-produced chocolate from major companies is often done by young teens and children. In fact, as many as 1.56 million children are estimated to be working on cacao farms in West African countries.
Cacao farming is a challenging labor-intensive process. The fruit is cut straight from the branch with a sharp blade. Then it is cracked open with a machete or a wooden mallet so that the cacao beans can be scooped out. Imagine a child doing such dangerous work! On top of that, they are exposed to chemicals daily.
Even if conditions were safe, child labor exploits children. They can’t attend school, and they are subject to abuse, injury, malnutrition, and exhaustion as farm workers.
We should never tolerate child labor so that the rest of the world can have cheap chocolate. But what can we do to hold the chocolate industry accountable? We can start by paying a little more for a bar of chocolate.