The bitter truth about chocolate

This page in brief

Most of us enjoy chocolate, but looking behind the scenes of how the cocoa is grown reveals some nasty facts. Many growers are paid low prices that keep them in poverty, and child slave labour is used on some farms.

Action to right these wrongs has been slow, but is slowly gathering momentum, due in part to consumer advocacy and buying habits. At first, a few smaller chocolate companies sourced their cocoa from Fair Trade or similar certified growers. Then the larger companies began to make some of their range certified. Now most major companies are moving towards full certification over then next 5 years.

We consumers should continue to keep the pressure on by choosing certified chocolate as much as we can.

Chocolate is big business

The figures on the internet don’t always agree, but here is as good a summary as I can find (based on data from 2011 to 2014):

  • The chocolate confectionary business is worth about $100 billion worldwide.
  • About 80% of the world’s cocoa is grown in West Africa, with Cote d’Ivoire accounting for about half of this.
  • The world’s cocoa crop is worth about $10 billion per year. (I have seen figures of about $7bn, $8.4bn, $10bn and about $14bn – much of the variation is probably due to volatile prices and being based on different years.)
  • 40-50 million people depend on cocoa for their livelihood.
  • Child labour is common in West Africa and according to this BBC report, 1.8 million children work in the production of cocoa. Some assist on poor family farms, but it is estimated that about 10,000-15,000 are illegally trafficked and forced to work as slaves on cocoa plantations, working under extremely harsh conditions (see Wikipedia and University of America).

There can be little doubt that some of the chocolate we all eat was grown on plantations which exploit and abuse slave children.

World response

This situation has been publicised in recent years and slow steps are being made towards alleviating the situation:

  • The cocoa and chocolate industries and the governments of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have set up procedures and protocols to reduce slave labour and pay growers a fairer price, but progress so far has been slow.
  • Several different certification processes (Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance), UTZ have been set up and a number of small manufacturers offer chocolates certified as child labour free. However these brands account for less than 1% of all chocolates bought, and sometimes things can still go wrong.
  • Larger manufacturers have responded slowly, but the positive change is gathering momentum. Some companies have obtained independent certification for a small part of their range while others have joined industry schemes or set up their own schemes. Several studies show that independent certification is a better guarantee of ethical behaviour, though it is certainly not an absolute guarantee.

Details of manufacturers’ response

I have researched the websites of pressure groups such as Stop the Traffik and World Vision, and also chocolate manufacturers, and written to several of them seeking further information. This is what I have found (this list is inevitably incomplete, and will quickly become out of date, but I would be happy to update if advised of new information):


Cadbury uses Fairtrade cocoa for its “Dairy Milk” products, in Australia at least, however Dairy Milk is only a small part of the Cadbury range. It says it would like to expand that commitment to other products in its range, but is presently unable or unwilling to because of the small number of Fairtrade certified growers. Overall, the four assessments shown in the table below rated Cadbury poorly.


Mondelez, which has taken over Cadbury from Kraft and also owns the Toblerone brand, announced in 2012 that it will invest $400 million on cocoa production in Africa over the next 10 years. This appeared to be a business investment to guarantee supplies more than anything else, but the news was nevertheless welcomed by Stop the Traffik.

Then recently, Mondelez announced it would have its supply chain certified by FLOCERT, the organisation which does certification for FairTrade. However Stop the Traffik is still not happy with Mondelez’s action on the ground, especially in regard to child trafficking, and is seeking further commitments and action.


In 2013, Nestlé Australia announced that its entire range in Australia was UTZ certified!

Globally, Nestlé is moving more slowly. It has a Cocoa Plan which aims to assist farmers in sustainable practices, provide community education, increase yields and incomes, eliminate child labour and the exploitation of women (actions lauded by Oxfam) and eventually have full certification. At present (as far as I have been able to ascertain) some of its range is certified by either UTZ or FairTrade, and some isn’t.

Nestlé has attracted much criticism for other practices, including its marketing of baby food, but in many respects it seems to have set some of the best aims of any of the chocolate companies, and is the only large company to get five ticks on World Vision’s 2012 chocolate scorecard for Australia. However overall, the other three assessments shown in the table below rated Nestlé poorly.


Mars has committed to fully certified cocoa by 2020, and already some products (Mars bars in UK and Australia and Maltesers in UK) are UTZ or FairTrade certified. Mars has received an award for being a highly ethical company, but the four assessments shown in the table below rated Mars poorly.

Ferrero Rocher

Ferrero Rocher does not use certified products and has a medium score in the assessments in the table below. However it has committed to making its products slavery free by 2020.


Lindt has a lot of information on its website about “Social Responsibility” and has made commitments to ethical practices. Lindt sources its African cocoa from Ghana, where it claims a “progressive governmental cocoa organisation” facilitates tracking of all cocoa and just payments to growers. Lindt is also a member of the World Cocoa Foundation, but does not use Fairtrade cocoa because those sources cannot supply Lindt’s needs. Lindt has a medium score in the assessments in the table below.


Hershey does not use any certified products, and rates poorly in the assessments shown in the table below. However Hershey has also announced it will be increasing it use of more ethically harvested cocoa.

Darrell Lea

Darrell Lea (Australia) has “recently” joined the World Cocoa Foundation and sources cocoa from suppliers certified by FLOCERT, the company that supplies Fairtrade certification, though this doesn’t necessarily mean certification to the same standard. Other cocoa suppliers are Rainforest Alliance certified.

In summary

The following table shows the how some well known chocolate brands score on four different guides. The are some inconsistencies because some assessments were made several years ago, and some companies are beginning to improve their supply chain. Also, chocolate sources may be different in different countries.

This table is just a guide. You should check out these guides for yourself – see the links at the bottom of this page.

Company Good Shopping
Shop Ethical
World Vision
Cadbury/Mondelez X X X ?
Darrell Lea ?
Ferrero Rocher ? X ? ?
Green & Blacks X X X ?
Guylian X
Hershey X X ?
Lindt ? ? ? ?
Mars X X X ?
Nestlé X X X
Ritter ? ?

Positive outcomes?

Despite some recent positive signs, child trafficking and near-slave labour are still (apparently) rife, and there is still urgent need for improvement:

  • Fairtrade appears to have more stringent labour requirements than Rainforest Alliance, UTZ and other certification schemes, but these three independent schemes guarantee better results than industry schemes.
  • Chocolate companies have not, so far, been very open about exactly what their practices guarantee and how much (in dollar terms) they actually spend on improving labour conditions in West Africa.
  • The money spent on poverty alleviation appears to be a small percentage of overall profits, and may be dwarfed by taxation avoidance by the same companies in West Africa. Stop the Traffik says: “10 years have earned the cocoa industry £600 billion. Only 0.0075% of this has been invested into improving working conditions in West Africa.”
  • Much of the current action appears to be aimed more at improving production and guaranteeing supply than in alleviating poverty, though it isn’t always possible to be sure.
  • According to World Vision, only 5% of chocolate worldwide is certified as ethically sources, but that was 4 years ago, and things have certainly improved since then.
  • If commitments by Mars, Ferrero Rocher and Hershey to stop sourcing cocoa harvested by child labour by 2020 are honoured, the global chocolate industry will have become significantly more ethical.

Thus it seems that the companies are making improvements, but probably less than justice demands and that they have previously agreed to do. Consumer advocacy and buying habits have surely made a difference.

Consumers who care should continue to advocate for further action, and as much as practicable buy from companies using independent certification with clear criteria, as is provided by Fairtrade.

Mars, Nestlé, Mondelez, Ferrero and Hershey’s dominate the global chocolate market. If these five companies set the standard, the rest will surely follow.


Making a difference

We, the chocolate buying public in the rich western world, can make a difference.

Change our purchasing

We can make a shift in our purchases towards the many smaller, specialist brands, such as:

  • Haigh’s, Chocolatier, Cocolo and Aldi brands (Australia)
  • Plamil, Seed & Bean, Malagasey, Divine, Montezuma’s (UK)
  • Equal Exchange, Mama Ganache, Endangered Species Chocolate (USA)

Alternatively, buy only those lines from the major brands that have the Fair Trade, UTZ or Rainforest Alliance logos.

This change may involve some sacrifice, as certified chocolates are often more expensive and have a much smaller range. It may not be realistic to only purchase certified chocolate, but we can go a long way towards that. It seems like a small price to pay.


We can write to chocolate manufacturers encouraging them to use certified child labour-free cocoa, or join organisations that facilitate on-line petitions from time to time. If we are willing to change our buying habits, we can explain this to the manufacturers.

Get more information

You can find out more, even write in support of Fairtrade certification, at these websites:

Photo: Child labour on a cocoa plantation in Ivory Coast © Copyright World Vision Australia 2015. All rights reserved. Used by permission..

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