The chocolate industry has a century-long history of forced and child labor in the production of cocoa.



More than 70% of the world’s supply of cocoa comes from two countries nestled on the southern shore of West Africa: Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. There, whole communities are dedicated to growing the crop that is lucrative for governments and international traders, but brings below-poverty wages for the farmers who produce it. Low wages mean farmers cannot hire the labor needed to harvest the crop, and perpetuates the child trafficking and worst forms of child labor that have plagued the industry. Children are exposed to chemicals, long working hours, and the denial of a decent education.  Low prices in the cocoa industry have left smallholder farmers with impoverished incomes and with no choice but to pull their children from school and have them help on the plantation. With low educational access and attendance, families in the cocoa sector are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty. Cocoa producers have little bargaining power against the few large multinational companies that control the supply chain and ultimately determine the livelihoods of farming families.

ILRF helped bring this problem to national attention more than a decade ago and is committed to bringing justice to cocoa farmers through public education, corporate campaigns, and engagement with partners organizing farmers on the ground. 




Ph Balanced Films created a short film in partnership with Judy Gearhart, current Executive Director, on Child Labor in the West African Cocoa industry. 



Children who work on cocoa plantations are exposed to hazards such as dangerous tools, dust, flames or smoke, chemicals, and/or physically demanding labor such as carrying heavy loads or spending many hours in the sun.

Cocoa trees are grown on small, independent farms of fewer than 5 hectares. Small farm sizes in the cocoa industry mean that production is heavily decentralized among hundreds of thousands of farmers. It is estimated that there are over 4.5 million small scale cocoa producers worldwide. These producers are scattered about the globe, but are generally located within 20 degrees of the equator, where the climate is most suitable for the crop. Altogether, producers across the globe supply 4 million tons of cocoa beans annually, and Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire now produce 70% of the world’s cocoa supply.

Unfortunately, the cocoa sector in this region is also afflicted with a severe child labor problem. In 2009, the U.S. Department of State estimated that there were more than 109,000 children working in the “worst forms of child labor” in Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa industry, and about 10 percent of those were victims of human trafficking or forced labor. In Ghana, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated in 2010 that about 43.5% of Ghanaian children aged 5-14 years were working.

Children who work on cocoa plantations are unavoidably exposed to certain hazards, including dangerous tools, dust, flames or smoke, hazardous chemicals, and/or physically demanding labor such as carrying heavy loads or spending many hours in the sun.

In addition to the physical consequences of their labor, cocoa farming often interferes with children’s education. In Ghana, only about 75% of children attend school. In Cote d’Ivoire the problem is even more severe: only 59% of young boys attend school, while only 51% of girls are in school. The consequences of being unable to attend school follow these children throughout their life, leading to an endless cycle of poverty.

Ultimately, the root cause of the child labor problem in West Africa is poverty. Cocoa farmers receive below-poverty incomes from their participation in the cocoa industry. It is estimated that in order to even meet the poverty line, cocoa farmers would have to earn more than three times their current income.

ILRF is committed to combating the scourge of forced child labor in the cocoa industry through public education, corporate campaigns, and engagement with partners in West Africa to uncover issues and find solutions.

Amplifying Farmer Voices

The balance of power in the cocoa industry is heavily weighted towards cocoa companies, leaving very little room for cocoa farmers to voice their opinions and concerns, and to negotiate better terms for themselves and their families.

In Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, producers must have a more active role in the price determination process for the cocoa industry. Prices are determined at the national level by committees of stakeholders, but in the field farmers report that they do not feel represented when prices are set for their product. As a result, farmers are not able to capture a large enough share of the market.


Eliminating Child Trafficking

Child trafficking in the cocoa sector is considerably difficult to identify, but there is no doubt that the problem continues to damage children’s lives. The scope of the trafficking problem must be better identified and remediation programs, whether through the government or civil society, must be improved.

Companies along the cocoa supply chain have benefited in one way or another from the free labor of trafficked children. These companies have an obligation to financially contribute to remediation programs, including the building and maintaining of government-operated trafficking centers in Cote d’Ivoire. 

For many years ILRF has actively pressured many companies, like Hershey, to recognize the child labor problem in the cocoa supply chain and take responsibility for finding solutions and providing remediation to affected individuals.

The Raise the Bar, Hershey! campaign consists of ILRF, Green America, Global Exchange, and Oasis. ILRF and allies have worked for several years to pressure Hershey to do more to eliminate child labor in the chocolate supply chain. The campaign achieved several campaign goals during its most active years.

In 2012, ILRF and its Raise the Bar allies developed the first-ever Super Bowl “brand-jamming” ad and secured rights to show the ad on a jumbotron screen outside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to an expected audience of 250,000 consumers attending Super Bowl day activities. In response to the potential embarrassment, Hershey announced the week before the Super Bowl that it would make its first commitment to sourcing independently certified cocoa for its Bliss and Dagoba lines by the end of 2012. Though the campaign viewed Hershey’s commitment as a less-than-half measure, Raise the Bar agreed not to air the ad.

For Valentine’s Day that year, ILRF promoted a petition launched by a local Pennsylvania high school student calling on the Hershey Trust to move Hershey into ethically sourced cocoa products. The petitions ultimately garnered more than 30,000 signatures.

Later that year ILRF authored and promoted a letter to Hershey, signed by 70+ grocery retailers, calling on the company to fully commit to ethically sourced cocoa. ILRF and allies also implemented a campaign asking Whole Foods to remove Hershey products from its stores. As a result of the petition and pressure from Whole Foods, Hershey announced it would source 100% certified cocoa in 2020.