Darkness in the Chocolate Industry

When and why did I start blogging? For my undergraduate degree in Geography, I was given an assignment on commodity chains. I honestly cannot remember the details of the assignment but I do know I had to write a blog article on my results. I knew nothing about blogging but decided to give it my best shot and to my surprise, I fell in love. So I have decided to share that article with you guys today. It was written over 5 years ago and is filled with flaws, however, it was my beginning and I am proud of it nonetheless. My goal is not to depress you or scare you but to educate you on the importance of understanding where your food or your products comes from.

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COMMODITY CHAIN

Commodity chain analysis highlights the relationship between the final commodity or product and the processes involved in the production. The concept behind the commodity chain analysis is to trace the product all the way back the concept idea, product design, production processes, the retailing and finally the consumption. Commodity chains can be defined as a network of labour and production processes with an end result of a finished commodity Trever (2011)

A commodity can be defined as anything that is produced for the purpose of sales, it is produced either to be bought or sold on either the local market, regional market or global market. The concept behind using the word chain is to describe the economic connection between all members of the commodity process as the product moves from conceptualisation to a product then distribution and finally consumption. The parties involved in a commodity is the sellers and buyers and the consumers and producers. Trever (2011)

Commodity chain analysis identifies the actors and processes that contributes to the final product or commodity. It traces its source of origin as well as the raw materials used. Therefore a commodity chain entails a sequence of operations that starts from the extraction or production of raw materials to the assembly of intermediate goods and finally to the distribution and consumption markets.

The analysis of such a complex chain considers several perspectives such as the transactional perspective, comparative perspective and functional perspective.

The transactional perspective identifies the flow and transactions that creates the commodity. It focuses mainly on the decision making process in the establishment and management of commodity chains. The comparative perspective looks at the competitiveness of the elements of the commodity chains in terms of added value. Lastly, the functional perspectives identify the physical processes involved in the circulation of goods. Rodrigue (2012)

Bair (2009) stated that the analysis of commodity chains focuses on the evolution of global separation and global integration of labour into the world economy. Furthermore, global commodity chains can be considered as structures that link actors across a worldwide space with each other and on the world market. Commodity chains can be unique depending on product types or market types. She also stated that commodity chain analysis is not a recent phenomenon it dates back to 1970s.

For this paper, the item in study is Hershey’s dark chocolate bar.

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It was sourced at Super Farm Maraval in Trinidad. The ingredients include sugar, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa, Milk fat, Lactose Milk, Soy Lecithin, PGPR, Emulsifier,Vanillin and artificial flavour. The main ingredient studied is the cocoa, however, I will touch on milk a little.

The company was founded by Milton Hershey, he was born on the 13th of September 1857 in the village of Derry church in Central Pennsylvania. At a young age Militon became an apprentice to a candy maker and it is from this his love bloomed. At the age of eighteen, he opened his first candy shop in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the company closed and Militon moved to Denver where he learnt caramel making. In 1894 Militon started the Hershey Chocolate Company on doing this he sold his caramel business and focused solely on chocolate making.

Today Hershey’s Chocolate is the largest chocolate manufacturer in North America.  The plant responsible for Militon success is the cacao plant. This tree grows in the tropics and has a pod-like fruit that contains beans in them.

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Hershey’s sources their cocoa beans from Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Indonesia and West Africa. However, their main supplier is West Africa as they contribute 70% of the cocoa beans used in the manufacture of Hershey’s chocolate bars.

Therefore this article focuses mainly on West Africa as they are the biggest suppliers.

 Hershey’s have four core values focused on the idea of “One Hershey”. These are

    1. Open to Possibilities- They are open to possibilities to become more diversified, being more innovative and ongoing improvement.
    2. .Growing together- They share knowledge and encourage and stimulate human potential whilst maintaining mutual respect.
    3. They aim at making a difference by positively impact everything they do whilst leading with integrity.
    4. One Hershey- They win together whilst acknowledging the individual responsibility for the result.

Chocolate making

On the cocoa plantations in the various countries, the pods and beans are collected during harvest. Next is the fermentation process this is where the beans in the pods are placed in heaps, this allows it to harden, the beans darken and the cocoa flavour develops.

After the beans are dried it is transported to the factory. The Cocoa beans from the varying countries possess different flavours due to the different species and the quality of the plants itself. When the beans reach the factory they are sorted by country and specially blended to make the required taste. Then they are roasted. After roasting the shell is separated from the bean and then milled which is a grinding process that allows it to liquefy. From there different ingredients such as milk or sugars are added to make the perfect chocolate. The paste is mixed and then allowed to cool. The final product is packaged and shipped to various stores and countries worldwide. 


The milk that Hershey uses in their products is from the Hershey dairy farm. Little information was provided on this. Although it is one of the leading producers of chocolate there are a series of issues surrounding the company. Hershey has struggled with ethical issues specifically child labour and labour exploitation on the cocoa plantations in West Africa. The maintenance of the environment is a key factor governing the company. Therefore they are taking the necessary precautions to reduce this impact. In many of the products, Hershey’s uses palm oil. This comes from the Palm oil tree and these plantations are causing a serious threat to the natural rainforest in the areas in which they are cultivated and is the leading cause of the Orangutan increased vulnerability to extinction.

However the company became a member of the RSPO which is the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil, therefore Hershey’s only gets their palm oil from RSPO suppliers. Furthermore, the company obtains their paper from suppliers that practice sustainable forestry practices and are Forest Stewardship Council or Sustainable Forestry Initiative certified. They invest in recyclable materials as 80% of the packaging is recyclable. They also aim to become a facility that provides zero wastage to landfill facilities.                                                                                                                                                                 

Child Labour 

With the majority of the cocoa supply coming from West Africa especially the Ivory Coast there is a constant need for employees on the plantation. This has resulted in the introduction of child labour on a large scale along with slavery and human trafficking across the African Borders. The majority of the cocoa farms in West Africa are owned by private landowners who receive anywhere between 50-66% of each year’s crop. In order to cut cost family members are used as the main source of labour on the plantations.

The children who work on the cocoa plantations age varies from 5 -15 years of age. These children are exposed to dangerous equipment and toxic chemicals that are detrimental to their lives. Despite the fact that the government is aware of such happenings, not enough is being done to curb this issue. Furthermore, there are restrictions on the statistics surrounding the number of children employed on the cocoa plantations. However, it is noted that approximately 2/3’s of the Cocoa farms uses child labour.

The children in West Africa are victims of extreme poverty. They often end up on the cocoa plantations because they have been sold by their relatives to human traffickers or plantation owners. Some are tricked into believing the pay is good and so engage in the farming in order to support their families. They have cases of kidnapping children as well as young boys from neighbouring villages such as Burkina Faso abducted and forced to work on the farms. As long as they have entered the plantation these children never see their parents or relatives again. As the child is delivered in cases of relatives selling the children they are offered a sum of money either up front or at the end of the period. However, the relatives at least some of them are not aware of the conditions the children work under and the lack of educational opportunities.

A child’s workday begins at sunrise and ends in the evening. The children on the farms use a machete for cutting the pods and knives. This has the potential especially in the hands of a child to severely cut the child’s hand or fingers. Typically almost every child’s hand is covered with scars. After the beans are placed in large sacks and the children are expected to carry them through the forest. A former child slave on the cocoa farm stated that the bags are taller and bigger than him and if he moved slowly he was usually beaten. With respect to food, the children are provided with minimal food which includes banana and corn paste. The sleeping conditions are very poor generally they are provided with a wooden plank in a windowless building usually very small that has no access to clean bathrooms and water. These children live in these conditions for months and some years.

The children on the cocoa farms in most cases are denied access to education so the poverty cycle is inevitably repeated. This restriction to education is a violation of the International Labor Organization (ILO) child labour standards.

Slavery

Apart from child labour, the cocoa plantations are also home to employee exploitation. Some of the none family members on the plantations are paid but it is usually an extremely small fee and the others are victims of slavery or work in extremely abusive conditions. They may be bought from neighbouring African states or countries and may be manipulated into thinking that large sums of money are owed to their employers. If these workers attempt to leave the plantation they can be punished by death or with life-threatening physical punishment.

As the demand for Cocoa is on a continual rise so too is the need for employers, this often involves acts of physical violence, such as being whipped for working slowly or trying to escape. A Former cocoa slave Aly Diabate stated that being beaten was a part of life and that when people eat and enjoy chocolate they are literally eating his flesh and blood.

According to Mordock (2012) Hershey was sued for facilitating child labour in West Africa. He stated that child labour is an ongoing serious problem in countries where Hershey’s source cocoa and because they have a forty-two percent share of the U.S. chocolate market, it can be statistically concluded that hypothetically Hershey’s is dependent on child labour and, therefore, has violated both national and international laws. However, the Deleware court ruling dismissed the charges as the investor suing Hershey’s failed to show how the company has engaged in wrongdoing by sourcing their cocoa from West African farms that have child labour. This ruling lead to the issues surrounding supply chain and the fact that the doing of one industry is not credible cause to mismanagement of a specific company, in this case, Hershey’s.

Although the case was ruled to be dismissed the case was allowed to proceed and is still ongoing as the judge shifted from possible misconduct to illegal practices and documents in Hershey’s possession provide details of the farming practices in West Africa that includes the issue of child labour and human trafficking. Therefore the company is knowledgeable of such and this resulted in the shift of the ruling. Previously these documents were withheld. Nieburg( 2014)

The Turn Around Point?

The lawsuit and protests by consumers were not in vain. Hershey’s has made an effort to curb and reduce the issues surrounding the cocoa industry. Firstly they have become involved with companies that fight against child labour in West Africa cocoa farms. The company has also become a member of the WCF and the ICI and became one of the eight companies that signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol. This requires companies such as Hershey’s to educate their suppliers as well as only use certain products.

Additionally, there is the Hershey’s Cocoa Link this which is a program that connects cocoa communities through the use of mobile technology. Farmers are informed about improving their techniques, farm safety issues, child labour issues, how to prevent crops from diseases, health issues, post-harvest production, and marketing the crop. These farmers through this technology are allowed to share answers amongst other farmers and receive answers specifically for cocoa farming. They also plan to introduce the “Learn to Grow Farm” in Ghana that is aimed at providing local farmers with information on the best sustainable practices they use on the plantation. Furthermore, they have begun producing products that incorporate cocoa that is ethically and sustainably grown.

Bliss chocolate, for example, one of their products are made of 100% rainforest alliance certified cocoa.By 2017 Hershey’s is hoping to invest $10 million in the cocoa community programs and expand them along with working closely with the West African community, government and agricultural experts to reduce the ongoing child labour issues occurring in the country. Although those programs are on paper Hershey’s is still under continuous criticism.  Currently, they do not have a policy in place that restricts them from purchasing cocoa that has been produced from child labour and slavery. Furthermore, the company has made no effort to have cocoa sourced from West Africa to be certified. With the various programs implemented there has been no evidence of the success of such programs actually implementing change.

Why I chose this topic?

Initially, I was going to do my commodity chain on Bob’s Redmill Gluten Free Flour. However, that proved to be very challenging as little information was provided as well as the complexity of the results. Then I started thinking that most people love chocolate so I should do a chocolate. Also, it is nearing Easter and that is the peak of the chocolate season. There are so many chocolate companies and types that I was super confused in the grocery. I randomly selected Hersheys Special Dark and decided this was my topic. As I began researching I realised the pressing issues surrounding this company and was eager to find out more and it grew from there. Most people if not everyone loves chocolate and for something that gives humans so much joy yet produced out of so much turmoil was extremely eye-opening for me. 

It is important for us to know and understand where our food and products come from. Child Labour and slavery in the chocolate industry has been going on for decades with no sign of stopping. We as the consumer can use or rights and voices to make a change and demand better from these mega corporations like Hershey’s Chocolate and Cadbury for example. There is a lot more information out there surrounding this topic feel free to do your own research on the ” Dark Side of Chocolate” and I hope this article opened your eyes to the harsh realities surrounding this delicious treat we all enjoy. 

Be the Change you want to see in this world! 

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2 thoughts on “Darkness in the Chocolate Industry

  1. Great article. I’ve recently been hearing a lot about child labor and fast fashion as well as theOreo cookie makers with Orangatuns. These would be fun topics to explore for a future post. You wrote this one so well.

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    1. Thank you so much for my very 1st article I had no clue what I was doing so I really appreciate your comment. I would definitely look into theOrea Cookie as well as the fashion industry. I also think you would like my blog title is recycling the answer it touched on a few things you mentioned in your zero waste article that I enjoyed

      Like

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