The Shocking Child Slavery Claims About Your Favorite Chocolate Bars

Photo: Tyler Hicks/Getty Images.
Siaka Traore, 14, posed for a photo on June 28, 2001 in Sedoudougou, Ivory Coast. Traore, who is from Mali, has worked harvesting cocoa but has never tasted chocolate. Siaka said he didn't know that the cocoa he harvests is used to produce chocolate.
Is your favorite candy bar a byproduct of child slavery?

That's the allegation at the heart of class action lawsuits filed on Monday against major candy producers The Hershey Company, Nestlé, and Mars, Inc.

The lawsuits, filed by the law firm of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, claim the companies source cocoa beans from suppliers in the Ivory Coast that use child laborers, some of whom are trafficked or forced into the work.

"Children that are sometimes not even 10 years old carry huge sacks that are so big that they cause them serious physical harm," one copy of the lawsuit reads. "Much of the world’s chocolate is quite literally brought to us by the back-breaking labor of child slaves."

Failing to disclose that the suppliers use child labor would be a violation of California law, the firm alleges.

"The consumers reaching out to our firm have been outraged to learn that the candy they enjoy has a dark, bitter production cost — that child and slave labor have been a part of Nestlé, Mars, and Hershey's chocolate processing," Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, said in a statement.

"These companies fail to disclose their use of child and forced labor, tricking consumers into indirectly supporting the use of such labor," Berman said.

In an email to Refinery29, a Hershey spokesman said the company is "committed to the ethical and responsible sourcing of all of our product ingredients and have no tolerance for illegal practices, including children used as forced labor in cocoa farming." He cited the company's role in industry-wide efforts to curb such labor practices, saying the "combined and focused effort of the entire industry and other stakeholders is a very encouraging and positive development. "

Nestlé told The Daily Beast that the allegations are "without merit." "Child labor has no place in our cocoa supply chain," Nestlé said in a statement. "We are taking action to progressively eliminate it by assessing individual cases and tackling the root causes."

Mars told The Daily Beast that the company "shares the widely-held view that child labor and trafficking is abhorrent and rooted in complex economic, political, and social issues" and that Mars is "committed to being part of the solution." Hershey did not respond to comment by press time, the publication reported.

The issue of children working in the cocoa industry has been the subject of scrutiny and attempted reforms for more than a decade. Yet an estimated 2.24 million children under the age of 17 still work in cocoa production in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, according to a study published by Tulane University in 2015. The number of child laborers in the industry rose by about 59% over a five-year span, the study found, despite a 2001 international agreement aimed at ending such abuses.

As of 2008, there were an estimated 225 million child workers worldwide, according to data published by the United Nations.

Refinery29 has reached out to Mars and Nestlé for comment.

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