Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

The guilty pleasure of having a candy bar just got a little guiltier. “The odds are substantial that a chocolate bar bought in the U.S. is the product of child labor,” the Washington Post reports, based on an 11-day reporting tour through the Ivory Coast’s cocoa farms by a reporter and photographer.

The journalists interviewed 12 boys who gave their ages ranging from 13 to 18. “The boys were working on farms harvesting cocoa, clearing brush with machetes and doing other work associated with cocoa production,” their account said.

This has been going on awhile, but the big chocolate makers including Mars, Nestlé and Hershey pledged nearly two decades ago to stop using cocoa harvested by children. Yet it continues. In the Ivory Coast, “hundreds of thousands of small farms have been carved out of the forest,” the Post reports, “the setting for an epidemic of child labor.”

About two-thirds of the world’s cocoa supply comes from the region, where more than 2 million children are employed in the industry, according to a 2015 U.S. Labor Department report. The big chocolate makers have missed several deadlines for halting the practice. One reason is the murkiness of the supply chain. Chocolate companies can’t identify where much of their cocoa comes from, “let alone whether child labor was used in producing it,” the Post said.

If that gives you second thoughts about your chocolate craving, don’t seek refuge in your favorite hazelnut spread. That crop carries a similar taint. Syrian refugees have been toiling on Turkey’s hazelnut farms with little to show for it, according to the New York Times.

Turkey produces about 70% of the world’s hazelnut crop on about 600,000 small farms. The harvest supplies the key ingredient for products like Nutella spread made by Ferrero, as well as candy bars from Nestlé and Godiva. “Few consumers know that behind each of these treats is a crop that has long been notorious for its hazards and hardships, as well as the prevalence of child labor,” the Times reported. “Now, a growing number of seasonal hazelnut workers are Syrian refugees, a cohort with a unique set of vulnerabilities. Few have work permits, meaning they lack legal protections.”

“In six years of monitoring, we have never found a single hazelnut farm in Turkey in which all decent work principle standards are met,” said Richa Mittal, the director of innovation and research for the Fair Labor Association, which has done fieldwork on Turkey’s hazelnut crop. “Across the board. Not one.” According to the Times, “No buyer is bigger or more secretive than Ferrero. It won’t name a single farm that its suppliers buy from, although simple arithmetic suggests that the answer is ‘most of them.’”

While child labor in agriculture is common in the developing world, the U.S. is no exception.
“More than half of work-related deaths among children in the U.S. occur in agriculture, according to a new US government report,” Human Rights Watch reported. “This happens despite the fact that farms employ less than 6% of child workers, highlighting the devastating consequences of weak laws and regulations that don’t properly protect child farmworkers.”