Editor’s Note: This piece originally ran in 2014, but as “Fortune” has noted, child labor still remains a massive issue in the cocoa industry. According to their report, more than 2 million children still work harvesting cocoa in West Africa, often in extremely dangerous conditions.
Each year, Americans purchase almost 600 million pounds of candy for Halloween, spending nearly $1.2 billion on chocolate candy alone.
What many consumers might not know though, is where all that chocolate comes from—and the labor conditions under which it was produced.
Here’s a look at some of the major problems within the cocoa industry, and how you can be a part of the solution.
Where Is It Grown?
More than 70 percent of all cocoa is grown in West Africa, where it is a huge part of the economy. As recently as 2014 in Ivory Coast, it represented more than half of the nation’s entire export revenue. Major candy brands like Hershey’s, Mars and others in the $110 billion-a year industry use cocoa grown in the region.
According to a 2013 Oxfam report, many of these these farmers receive just 5 percent of each chocolate candy bar’s actual value. By comparison, 10 percent goes to marketing alone.
As this video from Netherlands’ Metropolis TV shows, many of these farmers have never even tasted the candy their hard work helps to produce.
What Are the Conditions for Farmers?
Growing cocoa requires extremely difficult and dangerous manual work, with long hours in nations that have poor enforcement of labor standards. Though, as of 2014, the average cocoa farmer reportedly makes about $2 a day, illegal child labor and actual slavery are not uncommon. A noted by FoodIsPower.org, “Approximately 1.8 million children in the Ivory Coast and Ghana may be exposed to the worst forms of child labor on cocoa farms,” according to a 2011 Tulane University report.
Though companies like Nestle have made efforts to eliminate unethical practices from farms in their supply chains, NGOs involved in the region say human trafficking and child slavery are still major issues in the industry.
Where Is It Consumed?
Mostly poor West African nations may be responsible for the growth of cocoa, but it’s mostly people in rich countries consuming it. The United States far and away leads the world in the chocolate consumption, followed by several Western European nations.
How You Can Help Enact Change
Because so much cocoa is produced on small farms in remote areas, regulation of the actual working conditions can be difficult. However, because American and Western countries are responsible for most of the world’s chocolate purchasing, consumers there can make a huge impact.
Groups like Stop the Traffik and Food Is Power are working to educate consumers through fact sheets and even downloadable apps about how to purchase chocolate that was not produce by child or slave labor.
The efforts do make a difference. In recent years, more and more brands are making products that are certified to be free from unethical conditions, and are becoming more open about their supply chains.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.