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Cadbury, a British multinational candy company, faces fresh accusations of illegal child labor exploitation after a new TV documentary showed children as young as 10 using machetes to harvest cocoa pods.

According to an episode titled, “Cadbury Exposed: Dispatches,” released by Channel 4 on Monday, April 4, the cocoa farmers are paid less than $3 per day, which makes hiring adult workers unaffordable. As a result, the children work in grueling conditions to help turn the bitter, African plant into sweet European desserts.

“It’s horrifying to see these children using these long machetes, which are sometimes half their height,” Ayn Riggs said in a statement published by the Guardian, an internationally respected British news outlet. 

Riggs is the founder of Slave Free Chocolate, which campaigns against child labor on cocoa farms of West Africa. The organization continues to push for candy companies like Mars, Nestlé, Hershey, Cargill, Cadbury, Mondel?z and Barry Callebaut to accept accountability for child labor within their supply chains. The group is urging companies to pay more for the cocoa they purchase so that farmers can hire adult workers only.

“Chocolate companies promised to clean this up over 20 years ago. They knew they were profiting from child labour and have shirked their promises,” Riggs added.

The recent release of the investigation comes as millions of Europeans in the U.K. prepare to consume chocolate for the Easter holiday.

Child Labor in West African cocoa farms still an endemic issue

Back in 2001, the International Labour Organization (ILO), members of U.S. Congress, and representatives from the World’s largest chocolate companies agreed to end child slavery on West African cocoa farms and child labor throughout the international supply chains.

The agreement included establishing international labor standards, independent monitoring, and public certification that the cocoa used in chocolate or related products was grown and processed without forced or child labor.

“This is another step forward to eradicating everywhere the exploitation of children in the work place,”  ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said in 2001.

Meanwhile, the initiative’s targets were postponed and adjusted in 2005 and 2008 before settling on a revised target goal in 2010.

Yet over the last two decades, child labor in cocoa farms has only increased. Ghana and Ivory Coast are the two largest exporters of cocoa in the world. More than 1.5 million children were involved in the cocoa industry, according to a 2020 study by NORC, a social research group at the University of Chicago. Roughly 43 percent of those children were involved in hazardous work.

The new TV documentary from Channel 4 showed children using sharp knives to open the cocoa pods. They were also filmed swinging long sticks with blades tied to them, though none of the children were wearing protective clothing.

Cadbury company accused of using child labor on cocoa farms in Ghana
Screenshot from Channel 4 documentary

Child laborer “afraid” to stop working

The daughter of one farmer said she had sliced her foot open while using a long machete in another case of child labor. She also claimed to be supplying Mondelez International, parent company of Cadbury.

Under Ghanaian law, it is illegal for children under 13 to work on cocoa farms. There is also a ban on anyone under 18 being involved in hazardous labor. That hasn’t stopped desperate farmers from employing children, even forcing some of them to work.

According to the documentary, a niece of the farmer said she thought she was going to her uncle’s farm to help take care of other children. She says she was instead forced to work long hours on the farm and not allowed to return to school. When asked why she did not speak out, she said she was “afraid”.

Chocolate remains a multibillion dollar industry even as child labor has remained a constant issue for decades.

Cadbury company accused of using child labor on cocoa farms in Ghana
Screenshot from Channel 4 documentary.

Mondelez International responds to accusations

Mondelez International (formerly known as Kraft Foods) is the parent company of Cadbury after the U.S. conglomerate bought out the British candy company in a controversial move in 2010.

For its part, a spokesperson for Mondelez International downplayed the accusations while expressing concern for them.

“We’re deeply concerned by the incidents documented in the Dispatches programme. We explicitly prohibit child labour in our operations and have been working relentlessly to take a stand against this, making significant efforts through our Cocoa Life programme to improve the protection of children in the communities where we source cocoa, including in Ghana.”

On its website, Mondelez International claims “No amount of child labour in the cocoa supply chain should be acceptable.” The conglomerate brought in more than 3.3 billion pounds globally last year, which translates to more than $4.2 billion. 

“At the very least the companies profiting from these children are the ones that have to fix it,” Slave Free Chocolate states on its website. “They can start by paying a lot more for the beans that they buy. When a farmer is making less than $2.00, they can’t afford to hire adult labor.” 

Slave Free Chocolate also lists chocolate companies who use ethical labor practices as it works to push the industry to eliminate child slave labor.

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...

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