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Forty-five percent of the chocolate we consume in the

United States and in the rest of the world is made from cocoa

beans grown and harvested on farms in the Ivory Coast,

a small nation on the western coast of Africa. Few realize

that a portion of the Ivory Coast cocoa beans that goes into

the chocolate we eat was grown and harvested by slave children.

The slaves are boys between 12 and 16—but sometimes

as young as 9—who are kidnapped from villages in

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ETHICS AND BUSINESS 65

surrounding nations and sold to the cocoa farmers by traffickers.

The farmers whip, beat, and starve the boys to force

them to do the hot, difficult work of clearing the fields,

harvesting the beans, and drying them in the sun. The boys

work from sunrise to sunset. Some are locked in at night in

windowless rooms where they sleep on bare wooden planks.

Far from home, unsure of their location, unable to speak the

language, isolated in rural areas, and threatened with harsh

beatings if they try to get away, the boys rarely attempt to

escape their nightmare situation. Those who do try are usually

caught, severely beaten as an example to others, and

then locked in solitary confinement. Every year unknown

numbers of these boys die or are killed on the cocoa farms

that supply our chocolate.

The plight of the enslaved children was first widely

publicized at the turn of the twenty-first century when

True Vision, a British television company, took videos

of slave boys working on Ivory Coast farms and made a

documentary depicting the sufferings of the boys. In September

2000, the documentary was broadcast in Great

Britain, the United States, and other parts of the world.

The U.S. State Department, in its Year 2001 Human

Rights Report , estimated that about 15,000 children from

the neighboring nations of Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali,

and Togo had been sold into slavery to labor on Ivory

Coast farms. The International Labor Organization reported

on June 11, 2001 that child slavery was indeed

“widespread” in Ivory Coast and a Knight-Ridder newspaper

investigation published on June 24, 2001 corroborated

the use of slave boys on Ivory Coast cocoa farms.

In 2006, The New York Times reported that child slavery

continued to be a problem in West Africa. In 2007, BBC

News published several stories on the “thousands” of children

who were still working as slaves on cocoa farms in

Ivory Coast. Fortune Magazine in 2008 reported that slavery

in the Ivory Coast was still a continuing problem, and

a BBC documentary entitled Chocolate: The Bitter Truth ,

broadcast on March 24, 2010, a decade after the use of

slave boys in the chocolate industry was first revealed,

showed young boys were still being used as slaves on the

cocoa farms of the Ivory Coast.

Although slavery is illegal in the Ivory Coast, the

law is poorly enforced. Open borders, a shortage of enforcement

officers, and the willingness of local officials to

accept bribes from people trafficking in slaves, all contribute

to the problem. In addition, prices for cocoa beans in

global markets have been depressed most years since 1996.

As prices declined, the already impoverished cocoa farmers

turned to slavery to cut their labor costs. Although prices

began to improve during the early years of the twenty-first

century, cocoa prices fell again in 2004 and remained low

until the summer of 2010 when they again began to rise.

The poverty that motivated many Ivory Coast cocoa

farmers to buy children trafficked as slaves was aggravated

by other factors besides low cocoa prices. Working on isolated

farms, cocoa farmers cannot communicate among

themselves nor with the outside world to learn what cocoa

is selling for. Consequently they are at the mercy of local

middlemen who drive out to the farms, buy the farmers’

cocoa for half of its current market price, and haul it away

in their trucks. Unable to afford trucks themselves, the

farmers must rely on the middlemen to get their cocoa to

market.

Chocolate is a $13 billion industry in the United

States which consumes 3.1 billion pounds each year. The

names of the four largest U.S. chocolate manufacturers—

all of whom use the morally “tainted” cocoa beans from the

Ivory Coast in their products—are well known: Hershey

Foods Corp. (maker of Hershey’s milk chocolate, Reeses,

and Almond Joy), M&M Mars, Inc. (maker of M&Ms,

Mars, Twix, Dove, and Milky Ways), Nestlé USA, (maker

of Nestlé Crunch, Kit Kat, Baby Ruth, and Butterfingers),

and Kraft Foods (which also uses chocolate in its baking

and breakfast products). Less well known, but a key part

of the industry, are the names of Archer Daniels Midland

Co., Barry Callebaut, and Cargill Inc., all of whom serve as

middlemen who buy the beans from the Ivory Coast, grind

and process them, and then sell the processed cocoa to the

chocolate manufacturers.

While all the major chocolate companies used beans

from Ivory Coast farms, a portion of which relied on

the labor of enslaved children, many smaller companies

avoided using chocolate made from Ivory Coast beans and

instead turned to using chocolate processed from “untainted”

beans grown in other parts of the world. These

companies include: Clif Bar, Cloud Nine, Dagoba Organic

Chocolate, Denman Island Chocolate, Gardners Candies,

Green and Black’s, Kailua Candy Company, Koppers

Chocolate, L.A. Burdick Chocolates, Montezuma’s Chocolates,

Newman’s Own Organics, Omanhene Cocoa Bean

Company, Rapunzel Pure Organics, and The Endangered

Species Chocolate Company. Other small companies

turned to using fair trade chocolate and organic chocolate

because these are made from beans grown on farms that

are regularly monitored and so they, too, are made from

untainted beans.

That many farmers in the Ivory Coast use slave boys

to farm their cocoa beans was already known to American

chocolate-makers when media reports first began publicizing

the issue. In 2001, the Chocolate Manufacturers

Association, a trade group of U.S. chocolate manufacturers

(whose members include Hershey, Mars, Nestlé, and

others), admitted to newspapers that they had been aware

of the use of slave boys on Ivory Coast cocoa farms for

some time. Pressured by various antislavery groups, the

Chocolate Manufacturers Association stated on June 22,

2001 that it “condemned” “these practices” and agreed to

fund a “study” of the situation.

66 BASIC PRINCIPLES

On June 28, 2001, U.S. Representative Eliot Engel

sponsored a bill aimed at setting up a labeling system

that would inform consumers whether the chocolate they

were buying was “slavefree,” i.e., guaranteed not to have

been produced by slave children. The measure passed the

House of Representatives by a vote of 291 to115. Before

a measure can become law, however, both the House of

Representatives and the Senate must approve it. U.S.

Senator Tom Harkin therefore prepared to introduce the

same bill in the Senate. Before the Senate could consider

the bill, the U.S. chocolate industry—led by Mars, Hershey,

Kraft Foods and Archer Daniels Midland and with

the help of lobbyists Bob Dole and George Mitchell—

mounted a major lobbying effort to fight the “slave-free”

labeling system. The companies argued that a labeling system

would not only hurt their own sales, but in the long

run could hurt poor African cocoa farmers by reducing

their sales and lowering the price of cocoa which would

add to the very pressures that led them to use slave labor

in the first place. As a result of the industry’s lobbying,

the “slave-free” labeling bill was never approved by the

Senate. Nevertheless, Representative Engel and Senator

Harkin threatened to introduce a new bill that would prohibit

the import of cocoa produced by slave labor, unless

the chocolate companies voluntarily eliminated slave labor

from their production chains.

On October 1, 2001, the members of the Chocolate

Manufacturers Association and the World Cocoa

Foundation, caught in the spotlight of media attention,

announced that they intended to put in place a system

that would eliminate “the worse forms of child labor” including

slavery. In spring of 2002, the Chocolate Manufacturers

Association and the World Cocoa Foundation

as well as the major chocolate producers—Hershey’s,

M&M Mars, Nestle, and World’s Finest Chocolate—and

the major cocoa processors—Blommer Chocolate, Guittard

Chocolate, Barry Callebaut, and Archer Daniels

Midland—all signed an agreement to establish a system

of certification that would verify and certify that the

cocoa beans they used were not produced by the use of

child slaves. Known as the “Harkin-Engel Protocol,”

the agreement also said the chocolate companies would

fund training programs for cocoa bean farmers to educate

them about growing techniques while explaining the importance

of avoiding the use of slave labor. The members

of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association also agreed

to “investigate” conditions on the cocoa farms and establish

an “international foundation” that could “oversee and

sustain efforts” to eliminate child slavery on cocoa farms.

In July, 2002, the first survey sponsored by the Chocolate

Manufacturers Association concluded that some 200,000

children—not all of them slaves—were working in hazardous

conditions on cocoa farms and that most of them

did not attend school.

Unfortunately, in 2002, Ivory Coast became

embroiled in a civil war that continued until an uneasy

peace was established in 2005 and finalized in 2007; rebel

forces, however, continued to control the northern half

of the country. Reports claimed that much of the money

funding the violence of both the government and rebel

groups during these years came from sales of cocoa, and

that buyers of “blood chocolate” from Ivory Coast were

supporting this violence.

The 2005 deadline the major chocolate companies

and their associations had set, came, and passed without the

promised establishment of a certification system to ensure

beans were not being produced by slave children. At this

point, the chocolate companies amended the protocol to

give themselves more time by extending their own deadline

to July, 2008, saying that the certification process had

turned out to be more difficult than they thought it would,

particularly with the outbreak of a civil war. Although the

companies did not establish a certification system while

the civil war raged, however, they did manage to secure

enough cocoa beans to keep their chocolate factories going

at full speed throughout the war.

By early 2008, the companies had still not started

work on establishing a certification system or any other

method of ensuring that slave labor was not used to produce

the cocoa beans they used. The companies issued a

new statement in which they extended to 2010 the deadline

for complying with their promise to establish a certification

system. According to the companies, they had

been investing several million dollars a year into a foundation

that was working on the problem of child labor.

However, an investigative reporter, in an article published

in Fortune Magazine on February 15, 2008, found the

foundation had only one staff member working in Ivory

Coast. The activities of the staff member were limited

to giving “sensitization” workshops to local people during

which he would explain that child labor is a bad thing.

The foundation was also helping a shelter that provided

housing and education to homeless street children. The

reporter found no signs of work being done on a certification

system. By now the monitoring systems used in

the fair trade and organic parts of the industry had been

functioning for several years, yet the larger companies operating

in Ivory Coast seemed unable or uninterested in

learning from their example.

The existence of a large and well-organized system

for trafficking children from surrounding countries onto

Ivory Coast farms was once against demonstrated on June

18, 2009. On that date INTERPOL, the international

police organization, carried out a series of raids of several

farms believed to harbor slave children and managed to

rescue 54 children. Aged between 11 and 16, the children

had been working 12 hours a day for no salary; many were

regularly beaten and none had received any schooling. In

ETHICS AND BUSINESS 67

a public statement, INTERPOL estimated that “ hundreds

of thousands of children are working illegally in the

plantations.”

On September 30, 2010, the Payson Center at

Tulane University issued a report on the progress that

had been made on the certification system the chocolate

industry in 2002 had promised to establish, as well

as on the progress the industry had made regarding its

promise to eliminate “the worse forms of child labor,”

including child slavery, on the farms from which the industry

sourced its cocoa. The report was commissioned

by the United States Department of Labor who had been

asked by Congress to assess progress on the “Harkin-

Engel Protocol,” and who gave Tulane University an

initial grant of $4.3 million in 2006, and an additional

$1.2 million in 2009 to compile the report. According to

the report, “Industry is still far from achieving its target

to have a sector-wide independently verified certification

process fully in place . . . by the end of 2010.” The

report found that between 2002—the date of the original

agreement—and September 2010, the Industry had

managed to contact only about 95 (2.3 percent) of Ivory

Coast’s cocoa farming communities, and that to complete

its “remediation efforts” it would have to contact an additional

3,655 farm communities. While the Tulane group

“confirmed” that forced labor was being used on the cocoa

farms, it also found that no industry efforts to “remediate”

the use of forced labor “are in place.”

Not surprisingly, the problem of certification still

remained unresolved in 2011. After the media attention

had died down, the manufacturers and distributors buying

Ivory Coast cocoa beans seemed incapable of finding

a way to “certify” that slavery was not used to harvest

the beans they purchased. Representatives of the chocolate

companies argued that the problem of certification

was difficult because there are more than 600,000 cocoa

farms in Ivory Coast; most of them small family farms

located in remote rural regions that are difficult to reach

and that lack good roads and other infrastructure. Critics,

however, pointed out that these difficulties did not seem

to pose any obstacles to obtaining beans from these many

scattered cocoa farms. Cocoa bean farmers, poor and buffeted

by the low price of cocoa beans, continued to use enslaved

children although they were secretive about it. To

make matters worse, on February 2011, fighting between

the rebels in the north and the Ivory Coast government

in the south again broke out for a brief period in a dispute

over who was the legitimate winner of the 2010 presidential

election. The fighting ended in April 2011 when one

of the candidates finally conceded the election, allowing

Allassane Ouattara to be declared the legitimate president.

In 2010 another film, this one entitled The Dark

Side of Chocolate, once more documented the continuing

use of enslaved children on Ivory Coast farms, although

representatives of the chocolate companies interviewed

in the film denied the problem or claimed they did not

know anything about it. The beans tainted by the labor

of slave boys are therefore still being quietly mixed together

in bins and warehouses with beans harvested by

free paid workers, so that the two are indistinguishable.

From there they still make their way into the now

tainted chocolate candies that Hershey’s, M&M Mars,

Nestle and Kraft Foods make and that we buy here and

in Europe. Without an effective system of certification, in

fact, virtually all the chocolate we eat that is made from

West African (Ivory Coast and Ghana) cocoa contains a

portion of tainted chocolate made from beans harvested

by enslaved children.

 

 

Questions

 

 

1. What are the systemic, corporate, and individual

ethical issues raised by this case?

2. In your view, is the kind of child slavery discussed in

this case absolutely wrong no matter what, or is it only

relatively wrong, i.e., if one happens to live in a society

(like ours) that disapproves of child slavery? Explain

your view and why you hold it.

3. Who shares in the moral responsibility for the slavery

occurring in the chocolate industry?

4. Consider the bill that Representive Engle and Senator

Harkin attempted to enact into a law, but which

never became a law because of the lobbying efforts

of the chocolate companies. What does this incident

show about the view that “to be ethical it is enough for

 

businesspeople to follow the law”?

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