The bitter truth about chocolate

Kirstin Cook, Editor-in-Chief

If you’re still deciding on Valentine’s Day gift for your significant other, you might want to bypass the chocolate hearts, truffles and Kisses for a gift that is a little more ethical regarding human rights. While chocolate is a common Valentine’s treat for a sweetheart, the dark secret behind the candy is anything but sweet.

The chocolate industry is being tainted by unethical and irresponsible usage of forced child labor. CNN estimates that 200,000 children are working against their will on cocoa fields in the West Africa, the source of around 75 percent of the world’s cocoa beans.

Some of these children are kidnapped and smuggled to the cocoa fields, according to the International Labor Rights Forum. Children as young as 7 are forced to endure long hours and work with dangerous tools and pesticides, a scenario that evokes major human rights concerns.

One of the biggest violators is Hershey’s chocolate.

Unlike other chocolate corporations, Hershey’s has fiercely resisted ensuring their products meet ethical and legal labor standards. In a report, “Time to raise the bar: The real corporate social responsibility for the Hershey company,” ILRF states that Hershey’s does not have a policy to guarantee their cocoa is not produced through child labor.

The corporation, which has 42.5 percent of the market share in the U.S. chocolate industry, has refused to identify its suppliers or take part in a certification like Fair Trade to ensure illegal practices like child trafficking and forced labor do not occur at their cocoa sources.

The fact that a company that has such a large role in our culture would lack such basic moral principles is despicable.

This isn’t a new problem. U.S. lawmakers have been working for over 10 years to end the covert distribution of chocolate produced at the expense of young slaves. In 2001 the Cocoa Protocol was passed to require verification that companies had ceased child labor practices by 2005.

The protocol was extended to 2008. Then again to 2010. And today, Hershey’s has continued to ignore the protocol.

Some of Hershey’s biggest competitors, Kraft Foods and Mars Inc., have complied with these social standards. They have both agreed to have their cocoa certified by the Rainforest Alliance certification program.

To pressure Hershey’s into rejecting child labor, the Raise the Bar campaign attempted many forms of protest to get the message through. According to the Huffington Post, the campaign led the distribution of consumer alerts in grocery stores and the posting of protest photos on Hershey’s Facebook calling attention to their immoral labor practices.

What finally got Hershey’s attention, though, was a threat to display an ad publicizing Hershey’s connections to child labor outside of the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis during the Super Bowl. A week after this announcement, it was no coincidence that Hershey’s vowed to ensure its Bliss chocolates line is Rainforest Alliance Certified by the end of 2012. Raise the Bar, in turn, decided to cancel the commercial.

Bliss will only be Hershey’s second line, along with Dagoba chocolates, to reach proper ethical standards, and the Huffington Post reports that they are only a fraction of Hershey’s products. More has to be done to prevent the abuse of children forced to create our Valentine’s day treat.

As consumers, we need to force Hershey’s to fulfill its social responsibility. We have the right to know where our products come from, and whether they were created through cruel and illegal means.

Until Hershey’s agrees to become completely child-labor-free, buyers need to stop supporting them. Send Hershey’s a message for Valentine’s Day and bypass them for a more ethical chocolate producer. Or, better yet, send them an actual message through

There’s nothing romantic about child labor, so keep that in mind when picking something out for your Valentine this year.