Valentine's Day Chocolate: Exploiting Child Labor For Cheap Sweets

Tons of chocolate will be purchased and consumed on Valentine's Day. During the week of Valentine's Day, consumers will buy more than 58 million pounds of chocolate candy, racking in $345 million in sales and accounting for 5.1% of total annual sales.

Among some of the biggest chocolate companies in the U.S. are Hershey, Mars, Inc., Nestle, and Dove. While their chocolate might be sweet, the way these companies obtain their cocoa is anything but.

According to the International Labor Rights Forum, 40% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa’s Ivory Coast. The Department of State estimates that 109,000 children work “under the worst forms of child labor” there, suffering abuse that ranges from beatings to working long hours, utilizing dangerous work tools and being exposed to pesticides and brutal weather conditions for cocoa production.

Most of the world's cocoa beans come from plantations in Ghana and Ivory Coast, where a 2010 BBC investigation exposed the widespread use of child labor, human trafficking and even slavery to harvest cocoa. That seems like an awfully high price for children on the Ivory Coast to be paying so the rest of us could enjoy an affordable chocolate bar.

But Hershey’s, along with Mars, Kraft, and Nestle, have all made move in the morally right direction thanks to consumer advocacy. In 2009, Mars vowed to shell out millions to certify that the cocoa it uses in its products is sustainably sourced by 2020. When Kraft bought Cadbury in 2010, it pledged to honor Cadbury’s commitment to Fair Trade cocoa sourcing. Nestle has also committed to buying chocolate that meets international labor rights standards.

Consumers, including children, have asked companies like Hershey to do better. An eighth-grader started a Change.org campaign last year asking Hershey to commit to certified cocoa in all of its products going forward.

Hershey’s failure to fully address the cocoa production’s problematic effect on children in far-away countries is disheartening. While it’s certainly a good thing that Hershey’s is taking steps toward improving the supply chain, it could do better. Nothing says “I love you” like chocolate that’s made without exploiting the cheap labor of children.

As large, prominent U.S. corporations, these companies have a responsibility to ensure that their employees are treated justly. Child labor, especially that which involves working long hours in hot fields, is morally wrong. The goal of these companies is much less about quality than it is about keeping production costs low without any regard for the means taken to achieve this goal. It’s much less about quality than it is about exploiting children for financial gain. And there’s nothing appetizing about that.

This Valentine’s Day, do your research, and read up on how most of the hot Valentine’s commodities are not made with love. Make a card, it’s more personal and assures that your significant other doesn’t suffer a candy-induced stomach ache.