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It Takes More Than a Vegan Label to Make Chocolate Cruelty-Free

For many holidays, vegan groups from around the globe promote buying cruelty-free candies, with vegan chocolate often at the top of the list. However, just because chocolate is vegan does not mean it is cruelty-free.

The majority of cacao beans (or cocoa beans) come from either the Ivory Coast or Ghana in West Africa, and, unfortunately, child labor, human trafficking and slavery have been documented on cacao farms in these countries. Besides workers on cocoa farms being exposed to toxic chemicals (with children as young as 12 spraying the pods without using protective clothing), children as young as seven have been found working in the fields – using machetes to cut down the cacao pods. It is not uncommon for these children to have scars on their bodies from being injured by the sharp blades. In addition, the large bags filled with pods are very heavy and difficult to carry, and yet children have reported being beaten if they do not move fast enough while transporting these pod-filled bags. There are also stories of workers who have been locked in at night to keep them from running off, and when these workers attempted to escape, they were beaten or even killed. These abuses are more than enough to indict those who source their cocoa from the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Large companies, such as Hershey’s and Mars, are culpable for what is happening in the Ivory Coast and Ghana. These corporations make millions of dollars while knowing what is happening on cocoa farms in these countries. They set up committees and discuss the issue of child labor and slavery when the truth of the matter is all they really care about is making a profit– but they need to pay more to the people who are making them rich. Many of these areas in West Africa are extremely poor and farmers need to be paid a fair wage for the beans they provide to large chocolate manufacturers so they can pay their workers a living wage.

Trying to find out what is truly going on in these countries is often a challenge. Journalists who have tried to investigate child labor, human trafficking and slavery in the cocoa industry have found it difficult and dangerous. One reporter even disappeared while working on a story. The issues are indeed complicated, but Food Empowerment Project works to help those interested in just and compassionate food choices by making available a list of companies selling vegan chocolates that do not source their cocoa from the Ivory Coast or Ghana.

Please note we’re not even saying the vegan chocolate must be fair trade.

In 2010, child labor was found at several fair trade farms in Ghana that belonged to a cooperative, so at this time we do not feel comfortable recommending any cocoa sourced from Ghana or the Ivory Coast, regardless if it is certified fair trade. We know the fair trade organizations are doing their best and did take immediate action to remove the children from the farms in question, but at the present time, we are not able to make a blanket recommendation approving the use of cocoa from Ghana since it is difficult to police the thousands of fair trade farms that belong to the cooperative.

Vegan companies that make products with chocolate can make an effort to source their chocolate from areas that are not steeped in slavery. We know many have already, but more need to make the switch.

As advocates, we definitely encourage people to promote vegan products, but in order to call a product cruelty-free, be sure it truly is—that means only buying vegan chocolate that is not tainted with child labor or human slavery.

To learn more about the issue, click here.

If you aren’t vegan and are choosing to eat milk chocolate, you should become familiar with the suffering of cows on dairy farms.

Lastly, check out and use our chocolate list before you go on your next shopping excursion

Your dollars and your voice can help put an end to these atrocities.

Image Source: Mattie Hagerdorn/Flickr