With Halloween around the corner, who did not buy some Nestle or Cadbury mini bars? You are excused, at least for this year, but after reading this, no more. You might have to look closer at the packaging, before you buy that next chocolate bar.

The Passionate Eye of CBC broadcast last night (and again today, Sunday October 30 at 8 pm ET on CBC News Network) THE BITTER TRUTH: a report from a small film crew who went undercover to show their experiences with the cocoa trade in Ghana and Bukino Faso, posing as cocoa bean buyers for an alleged high end chocolatier in Toronto, Canada.

The crew went to the forest areas were the cocoa trees grow that produce the squash-sized pods holding the treasured seeds. The pods are cut open with large machetes to uncover the beans, which are then removed, dried and only then do the beans develop the desired chocolate taste. The crew interviewed the workers, the traders (those who wanted to speak), and children that they met who worked in the trade.

They found out in their interviews that in every village in the area, about 10 children around or under twelve years old–the youngest they found was eight years old–doing heavy and dangerous work while living in the bush: climbing the trees, cutting the pods and collecting the beans. They do not go to school at all and they do not get any money—their relative gets the child’s salary paid out twice a year for the child. The children receive hardly enough food, or any medical treatment when they need it.

These children often do not belong to the village and are recruited by an uncle or a step dad, or a biological father to be sent elsewhere with the recruiters to work in the bush. Often these children are kidnapped without their mother knowing their whereabouts.

The interviewers had to gain their trust first; all filming was done undercover, as officially  child labour is forbidden and will be punished, if the guilty parties are caught.

The villages have no running water, no sewer and no electricity. The kids in the villages get some education, but not those boys working in the bush recruited from elsewhere. The children had never tasted chocolate and were surprised by the taste when the reporter gave them each a Kitkat bar.

The average family income in Ghana was said to be about $1000. Contrast that with the total income for the chocolate industry as a whole: $18 billion (18,000 x $`1,000,000.

When the crew had bought enough of a load to justify their cover, they went back to the main port to sell their beans: San Pedro. As they did not have any paperwork that documented from which producers the beans were purchased, the crew was restricted to sell their harvest to small traders.

The large traders have now established tighter rules to prevent child slave labour and to ensure ethical trading, under pressure of the buyers from the European and other industrialized nations. Nevertheless, the film crew had no problem selling their child labour produced cocoa beans. The smaller traders have in turn no problem selling their beans to the big cocoa exporters.


The US has established a trade protocol, to prevent unethical cocoa entering their territory: the so-called Harkin-Engel protocol. The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) and the World Cocoa Foundation were established to concern itself with responsible and sustainable cocoa growing, and/or dedicated to ensuring no child is exploited in the growing of cocoa and, ultimately, and to ending child and forced labour in the sector. Large chocolate producers such as Nestle, Mars and others have invested with large donations to the ICI.

They give the following facts on their websites: 

  • Number of cocoa farmers, worldwide: 5-6 million (all within 20 degrees of the equator)
  • Number of people who depend upon cocoa for their livelihood, worldwide: 40-50 million
  • Current global market value of annual cocoa crop: $5.1 billion. *
  • Cocoa growing regions: Africa, Asia, Central America, South America
  • Percentage of cocoa that comes from West Africa: 70 percent

An  independent evaluation conducted in Ghana in May and June 2009 found out that in ICI supported communities, there has been a significant reduction in the numbers of children involved in hazardous activities and many children are better protected and equipped with size appropriate tools for the farm work that they continue to do. In the same time, the evaluation team noted that parents, children and community leaders have a greater understanding of the relevance and importance of a school based education than they did in the past and this is reflected in increased enrolment and attendance rates (particularly at primary level), parents’ almost universal provision of school uniforms (estimated at over 90%) and community contributions to improving school facilities.

Of course, the children found in the bush by the film crew are “nobody’s children” and would not be included in this evaluation, as they have no parents bringing them in: they are invisible in their community.


– Buy chocolate with the logo of ethical production which at least attempts to ensure a socially responsible trade is maintained. There are a few products, you will have to search for it, although the market is growing for socially responsible products. The Ten Thousand Villages shops may carry some. Fairtrade chocolates may or may not be ethical, as the story above illustrates.

– Ask questions of the store owner whether child labour was  used in its chocolate production, bring up the subject where you can, and boycott the regular trade chocolate (might be better for you anyway). We have two chocolate makers in Kelowna: Bernard Callebaut and Annegret’s Chocolates. Where does their cocoa come from?

– Get further informed. The link below is a website, listing child labour free chocolates, the producers and their selling points. If so inclined, you could become a donator of the ICI, which assists the local producers to become child labour free.

Another blog devoted to slave free chocolates is:


West Africa is a region that contains 16 countries Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Nassau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo over an area of approximately 5 million square km:[1]Benin,.

With the exception of Mauritania, all of these countries are members of the ECOWAS or Economic Community of West African States. The United Nations region also includes the island of Saint Helena, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean.(Wikipedia)

Not necessarily areas where vacation resorts are located, so all this child exploitation continues on…until we stop it.

I would love to hear your views and any comments that you may have.


About BABYBOOMER johanna van zanten

My name is Johanna van Zanten. I am a baby boomer, interested in writing and connecting with other writers and readers to engage in discussions and information sharing, to share a point of view about current global issues, writing, and publishing, diversity, immigration, travel, music, life, specific baby boomer issues, and dating/relationship issues. I have written a novella, ON THIN ICE about baby-boomer Adrienne and will link this blog with the information website for this novella. Right now, I am trying out the blog.
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