Investigation uncovers shocking truth: Child labor exploited in cocoa production by major candy company

Children in Ghana, some as young as 5, are working cocoa fields and wielding machetes instead of attending school.

Investigation uncovers shocking truth: Child labor exploited in cocoa production by major candy company
30 Nov 2023, 04:04 AM
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Child Labor in Ghana's Cocoa Farms

Child Labor in Ghana's Cocoa Farms

In the blistering heat, children in Ghana as young as 5 years old are using machetes nearly as big as themselves to harvest cocoa beans. These beans eventually end up in some of America's most-loved chocolates. Our team recently traveled across Ghana's remote cocoa belt to visit small subsistence farms that supply the U.S. chocolate giant Mars, known for producing candies like M&Ms and Snickers. 

Shockingly, we found children working at each and every one of these farms, despite the company's promise to eradicate child labor from its supply chain by 2025.

Mars has previously boasted about rescuing thousands of children through its robust monitoring system, which aims to keep children off cocoa plantations and in schools. However, CBS News has exclusively obtained copies of whistleblower reports that confirm some of the listed children are still working in the fields.

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Munira, a 15-year-old girl, has been working in the cocoa fields since she was 5 years old. Due to the lack of access to education, Munira's school is an hour-long walk away and transportation options are expensive. Unfortunately, her family only harvested one bag of decent-quality cocoa last year, which is worth about $115.

Field supervisors contracted by Mars visited Munira last year and provided her with a backpack and schoolbooks that had the slogan "I am a child, I play, I go to school." However, in the 18 months since their visit, Munira's family has stated that no one has checked to see if she is actually attending school.

"I feel sad. I want to be a medical doctor," Munira expressed. "But my family doesn't have enough money for school."

Gafalo, Munira's 12-year-old brother, also works in the cocoa fields but dreams of joining his peers in the classroom.

A cocoa field supervisor, who spoke to CBS News anonymously, revealed that "almost every data" used to create the lists of children attending school is either manipulated or inaccurate. The supervisor admitted to personally fabricating lists in the past. He and other supervisors explained that they are often under pressure to provide names within 24 hours and that the companies never verify the information.

"Nobody has come back to check whether it's true or not," the supervisor added.

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Child Labor in Ghana's Cocoa Industry

According to an investigation conducted by CBS News, numerous children in Ghana, whose names were listed as attending school, were found to be absent from classes and were not being monitored regularly. CBS News interviewed nearly a dozen children who confirmed their absence from school and lack of supervision.

One child stated, "No one came here, ever," highlighting the lack of attention given to their education.

Furthermore, CBS News discovered instances where names on the attendance lists were completely fabricated. During their visit to a farm, a child who was supposedly working in the cocoa fields, according to the list, was no longer present. The list even identified her as the farmer's daughter, but she does not exist.

At a school visited by CBS News, only a third of the registered students actually attended classes. All students admitted to participating in cocoa harvesting either before or after school.

In addition, CBS News investigated a cocoa warehouse in Ghana that supplies Mars, a well-known chocolate company. An employee at the warehouse, who requested anonymity, acknowledged that child labor is considered an offense in the country. However, he could not guarantee that all the cocoa handled at the facility was produced without the use of child labor. When asked about the possibility, he stated, "I can't say 100%."

Terry Collingsworth, a human rights lawyer in the U.S., has taken legal action against American chocolate companies, including Mars. He has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging consumer fraud. Collingsworth has gathered statements from Ghanaian children who work for Mars suppliers, with some even describing the backbreaking labor they endure in the cocoa fields.

Child Labor in Cocoa Production

Child Labor in Cocoa Production

A recent incident witnessed by CBS News highlighted the ongoing issue of child labor in cocoa production. One child was on the verge of losing his fingers while using a machete to open cocoa pods.

According to Collingsworth, a concerned individual interviewed by CBS News, there is a discrepancy between what the public is being told about rehabilitating these children and the reality on the ground. He claims that while authorities claim to be rehabilitating these children, they often return to work the very next day.

Mars, one of the major players in the cocoa industry, responded to these allegations in a statement provided to CBS News. They stated that their cocoa suppliers in Ghana have agreed to follow their Supplier Code of Conduct, which includes the implementation of a Child Labor and Remediation System (CLMRS) by 2025. Mars also mentioned that over 65% of their cocoa supply in West Africa is already covered by CLMRS, which is audited by certification bodies as part of Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade certification requirements.

Child Labor in Supply Chain

Child Labor in Supply Chain

To be clear, we condemn the use of child labor. It has no place in our supply chain, and we are committed to helping eradicate it, which is why we have a robust Protecting Children Action Plan in place that is backed by a significant financial investment. We are also transparent in saying that we know that more needs to be done and we continue to work diligently with parties across the cocoa sector to further help advance respect for human rights in the cocoa supply chain.