The Dark Side of Chocolate



Hershey’s chocolate has always been my absolute favorite sweet. It seems as though most of America agrees, as Hershey accounts for about 42.5% of the United States chocolate market (Raise the Bar). The Hershey Company not only offers dark chocolate, but also a dark side of their business. Inside almost every sweet Hershey chocolate product is the harsh reality that the cocoa used to make the delicious chocolate treats may have been produced under poor conditions, including forced labor, human trafficking, and abusive child labor. Much of Hershey’s cocoa that is used to satisfy the ‘sweet tooth’ of millions of Americans is in fact farmed by African children under the age of twelve. Kidnapped from their homes, they are forced to work long hours with no pay and are beaten regularly. More disturbing, however, is that Hershey is completely aware of this situation and has chosen to do nothing to prevent these terrible labor conditions. In this essay, I will reveal the horrors of the Hershey Company supply chain. I will also compare the chocolate industry to the banana industry in terms of their supply chain practices. I will then utilize the opinions of business ethicists Hartman and Donaldson to explain how Hershey has an obligation to prevent these horrible labor practices by drastically changing its supply chain processes.

In 1900, Milton Hershey founded The Hershey Company, located in Hersey, PA. The company began producing chocolate bars in different shapes and sizes, and over the last century has grown to produce more than 80 name brands of candy products distributed around the globe. Hershey operates globally and employs roughly 14,000 workers (Robbins). It produces around $6 billion in revenues each year, and has a 42.5% market share of the chocolate industry in the United States (Raise the Bar). The Hershey Company went public in 1927, and has dominated its industry for more than 100 years due to the low cost structure of its supply chain. The company imports almost all of its materials used in the production process, the most vital being cocoa beans. At the turn of the 20th century, Hershey proclaimed itself as a leader in corporate social responsibility when the Mr. Hershey founded the Milton Hershey School of undeserved children in 1909. It served as a school for orphan boys, and focused on helping the needs of orphaned children (Hershey’s). Recently however, the Hershey Company has tarnished this reputation due to the horrible supply chain operations of its cocoa imports.

In West Africa along the Ivory Coast—the world’s leading producer of cocoa beans—profits from the $13 billion dollar chocolate industry serve as the catalyst for widespread corruption and abuse. Cocoa farming is not as rewarding as it is thought to be. Most farmers live in poverty and do not receive the large revenues that these products generate. Farmers face constant pressure from a “cocoa cartel” that demands more cocoa beans for less money, and forces farmers to turn to the cheapest labor possible: thousands of enslaved children that pick the cocoa beans, but have never known the sweet taste of chocolate that we have all come to know and love (Off).

Slavery and injustice have always been two key ingredients in Hershey’s Chocolate. Unfortunately, some people remain unaware of this fact. Children younger than twelve years old are put to work in the cocoa fields and paid little to nothing for years at a time. Many of these children are forced to work against their will or are forcibly taken from their homes. Human trafficking in this region is a modern day slave trade for cocoa farmers. A BBC report in 2000 found that hundreds of thousands of children are being taken or sold from their home to work on these cocoa farms (BBC News). A child laborer on a West African cocoa farm was interviewed by BBC reporters and stated, “I was living in Bouake with my grandmother, but my father sent me here to work. I haven’t seen my family for three years” (BBC News). It is not uncommon for poverty stricken parents throughout the region to sell their child in hopes of seeing returns from the money their enslaved children make working on the farms. Sadly, the children work hard manual labor with no pay, minimal amounts of food, dangerous working environments, and endure regular beatings. Many of these children are trafficked from neighboring countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso (Raise the Bar). “The United States Department of Labor in 2011 released a study that confirmed that nearly two million children, some of them under ten, worked illegally on West African cocoa farms, which supply cocoa to Hershey and other chocolate producers” (Courthouse News). Once forced to a farm, the children usually experience frequent injuries from working with machetes, carrying heavy loads, or coming into contact with toxic chemicals. The International Labor Organization labels the practices in West African cocoa farms as the Worst Forms of Child Labor (WFCL), and is actively seeking a solution (International Labor Organization).

It is clear that since at least 2001, the Hershey Company has been aware of the problems that exist at the start of its supply chain, yet it continues to source its cocoa from the Western region of Africa without ensuring that these abuses do not occur in the production of the cocoa that it uses. In 2001 consumers around the world were outraged to discover that child labor and slavery, trafficking, and other abuses existed on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. An enormous amount of negative publicity and consumer demands for answers and solutions soon followed. It all began with an investigative report by BBC that revealed the shocking truths plaguing the chocolate industry’s supply chain. The report investigated the severity of the labor practices in West Africa. Until this report, neither industry workers nor consumers knew much of the child labor and human trafficking used to produce chocolate products. Similar to the Nike scandal, Hershey and other chocolate companies ignored the critics at first. The industry felt that since they did not own the farms themselves, they could not be held responsible for these injustices (BBC News). It wasn’t until 2001 that the United States government finally pressured the industry to change. On June 28th, 2001 the United States House of Representatives voted in favor of starting a slave-free labeling system for cocoa products (Tulane). To avoid legislation that would have forced chocolate companies to label their products with “no child labor” labels (for which many major chocolate manufacturers wouldn’t qualify), the industry fought back and finally agreed to a voluntary protocol to end abusive and forced child labor on cocoa farms by 2005 (Raise the Bar). It would be signed by chocolate industry companies to serve as self-regulation in order to relieve the governmental pressure. It promised to end the “Worst Forms of Child Labor” in cocoa producing countries within the next four years. The Hershey Company was among the companies to sign this agreement.

Twelve years later, while Hershey’s primary competitors have at least taken some steps to reduce or eliminate slavery and other forms of abusive child labor from their chocolate supply chains, Hershey has done almost nothing. A Tulane University Report in 2011 stated that there is a need for government reform because the Protocol has been unfulfilled by the chocolate industry (Tulane). United States Government reports also came out in 2011 and found that an estimated two million children still work illegally on West African cocoa farms (Courthouse News). Additional reports found that child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking were all still part of the cocoa producing process along the Ivory Coast. Hershey is well aware that many smaller chocolate companies in the United States have purchased only Fair Trade certified cocoa for years, thus ensuring that cocoa farmers earn enough money to support their families. However, Hershey claims that while this is possible for smaller companies, it would be impossible for a company as large as Hershey (BBC News). Moreover, other large companies publicly identify their sources of cocoa, but Hershey does not. Hershey’s primary competitors also employ a third-party certification for the cocoa that they source from West Africa. Hershey does not.

The following chart is a breakdown of the funds that are designated by each company to fight child labor in cocoa under the Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group (CLCCG) framework:

Screen Shot 2013-04-07 at 2.20.39 PM

As you can see, Hershey’s commitment was only 17 percent of Mars’ (its largest competitor in the United States). Hershey, the largest chocolate maker in the United States, brings in over $6 billion in revenues every year. As one of the biggest chocolate companies in the world, Hershey is just as responsible as its competitors for the horrible labor conditions on the cocoa farms in West Africa. Yet, Hershey has been parsimonious when it comes to the fight to remove child labor from cocoa fields.

Hershey’s single initiative to fall under the CLCCG program requirements is the CocoaLink program, which sends text and voice messages to farmers to discourage the use of child labor and encourage more efficient farming techniques (Raise the Bar). This program was launched in March of 2011, and has 3,720 subscribers registered in Ghana, where there are an estimated 700,000 cocoa farmers (Raise the Bar). As such, CocoaLink has reached less than 1% of cocoa farmers in Ghana. The Hershey Company provides various statistics on this program in the infographic pictured below.



These statistics, however, can be very misleading to poorly informed consumers. Due to the fact that there is still no evaluation report on the effectiveness of this program, it remains unclear whether these messages have had, or will have, any substantial impact on farmers’ lives.

“Raise the Bar: The Real Corporate Social Responsibility Report for the Hershey Company” is a campaign that puts pressure on the Hershey Company to stop using cocoa produced with the WFCL (Raise the Bar). Raise the Bar was created by Global Exchange, Green America, and International Labor Rights. The campaign explains the WFCL in West Africa, how Hershey does nothing to prevent it, and the actions that Hershey needs to take. Raise the Bar brings to light various solutions that Hershey could realistically utilize to begin to combat the injustices. For instance, Hershey should hire reputable, independent, third party certification to ensure that a process is put in place to identify and remediate labor rights issues. For cocoa, the strongest certification system currently available is Fair Trade. As previously mentioned, Hershey has not embraced certification while its competitors have. In fact, only one of Hershey’s chocolate bars is Fair Trade Certified.

An industry that has been very successful in combating the injustices throughout its supply chain is the banana industry. It is really interesting to compare the banana industry, and the progress they have made with Fair Trade, to the current state of the chocolate industry. Within the banana industry, there are as many as ten million people involved in growing, packing, and shipping bananas. As with the chocolate industry, American consumers have only recently begun to think about them and about labor conditions. Although many European nations have helped to create a Fair Trade system for bananas grown in the Mediterranean and Caribbean regions, the United States has yet to develop a similar system for bananas grown in Latin America, where large corporation have always been the dominant force. Similar to cocoa farming, the conditions and prices for bananas in Latin America prioritize the cheapest production possible, causing a frequent violation of labor rights. Bananas that bear the Fair Trade certification mark have been produced by small farmer organizations or in plantations that meet high social standards (Frundt). Under this certification, profits must be equally distributed among the members. Moreover, all members of the producer organization must have a voice in the decision-making process and in the group organization (Frundt). This helps to combat the social injustices that had previously been commonplace throughout the banana industry supply chains. The chocolate industry would clearly benefit from Fair Trade certification, as the Fair Trade system means that farmers get a premium price for their cocoa, which would hopefully lead to a decrease in the number of children forced into slave labor on cocoa farms.

The Hershey Company should actively take measures to eliminate unethical labor practices from its supply chain, just as the banana industry has done in recent years. Business ethicists Thomas Donaldson and Edwin Hartman help to explain the duties of corporations in the essay “Donaldson on Rights and Corporate Obligations.” Donaldson states that duties can be divided into three categories. These categories include: the duty to avoid depriving people of their rights, the duty to help protect people from such deprivation, and the duty to aid those who are deprived. These duties are obligations of corporations, under the condition that the corporation can in fact afford to fulfill these duties, and that the corporation can fairly accept the responsibility of these obligations (Hartman). Let us examine whether Hershey has an obligation to fulfill these duties. Within all three of these categories Hershey has the ability to prevent forced labor, child labor, and human trafficking in the production of cocoa without significant expenditures. They simply choose not to do so. Hershey should trace its supply chain all the way back to the specific farms that supply their cocoa beans, and ask these suppliers to end such unethical practices. If suppliers do not comply, switch suppliers. There is an abundance of cocoa farms in West Africa that would be happy to get the business. With minimal effort, Hershey can protect children from forced labor. As Hershey still utilizes these farms as its primary suppliers, it is helping to sustain these horrible labor practices.

The Hershey Company has both a corporate and social responsibility to change its supply chain processes. Raise the Bar campaign has presented a logical and reasonable plan for Hershey to follow. The balance of power in the cocoa supply chain will remain in the hands of cocoa exporters and chocolate brands unless cocoa farmers and chocolate companies can be empowered to negotiate a decent price for the cocoa crop. Until then, farmers will continue to live in poverty, and child labor will continue to plague West Africa.



If you have some free time, please watch the following documentary entitled “The Dark Side of Chocolate” to learn more information about child labor and human trafficking within the chocolate industry. The Dark Side of Chocolate is a 2010 documentary film about the exploitation and slave trading of African children to harvest chocolate that is still occurring twelve years after the cocoa industry pledged to end it.


“Chocolate – The Dark Side of Chocolate – Documentary.” YouTube. YouTube, 26 Jan. 2013.  Web. 07 Apr. 2013. <;.

FILIP , IULIA. “Courthouse News Service.” Courthouse News Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2012.

Frundt, Henry J. Fair Bananas: Farmers, Workers, and Consumers Strive to Change an Industry. Tucson: University of Arizona, 2009. Print.

Hartman, Edwin. “Donaldson on Rights and Corporate Obligations.” Donaldson on Rights and Corporate Obligations. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Apr. 2013.

Hawksley, Humphrey. “BBC News – Ivory Coast Cocoa Farms Child Labor: Little Change.” BBC – Homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2012.

“Hershey’s.” N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.

“International Labor Organization.” International Labor Organization. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Apr. 2013.

“Is Hershey’s Going Fair Trade? Did We Really Win? Not Yet……” Global Exchange Fair Trade Blog RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2013.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: New, 2008. Print.

Robbins, John. “Is There Slavery In Your Chocolate?” John Robbins Official Site. N.p., 19 Apr. 2010. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

“The Campaign to Make Hershey Fair Trade.” Time to Raise The Bar. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.

Tulane University, Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer. Oversight of Public and Private Initiatives to Eliminate the Worse Forms of Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector. New Orleans, LA: Tulane University, 2011. Print.

6 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Chocolate

  1. i think that all of this happens because no one helps about it and because poor families send their kids to work because they don’t have the resources to pay food and education.

  2. Why this happend on the world?, maybe is cause we eat so much chocolate that the companies no have other resource to make more chocolate that kidnapping kids. Eat chocolate can be bad? in the sense that we are making kids suffer.

  3. I actually watched a documentary about this and this is wrong on every level there is. I am so grateful that I am not doing this everyday and then not getting paid. This world we live in is a cruel and dangerous place. These little kids working their butts off everyday to please our taste buds is not the right way to do things. Ever since I watched the documentary i stopped eating chocolate in all because the work that they do is hard.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s