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Bridging Passions and Purpose: A Chocolate Bar’s Bitter Truth

I was just in Cairo for GBSN’s annual conference, GBSN Beyond. While unwinding one evening, a simple chocolate bar opened my eyes to a harsh reality. Thanks to Charles Autheman, a Professor at HEC Paris and a key figure in the GBSN for Biz & Human Rights Impact Community, what began as a casual dinner conversation soon turned into a profound learning experience.

Charles noticed my choice of dessert—a milka chocolate bar—and it sparked a discussion on a topic that often remains veiled: child labor in the cocoa industry. One shouldn’t have to worry that the chocolate we eat might contain cocoa cultivated or harvested by a child.

Prof Autheman invited me to listen in on one of his upcoming lectures, which led me to a virtual seat in an his class today. We collectively heard a guest lecture by Berit Knaak, Ph.D. from the Geneva School of Economics and Management – UNIGE Center for Business and Human Rights on the root causes of child labor in the cocoa industry and ways we can work to address this issue.

Her presentation touched on the state of child labor in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, revealing a shocking reality that 800’000-1’000’000 children work in cocoa production in the Ivory Coast and Ghana — that’s 30% of children in cocoa producing regions.

Around 1.6 million children in the two largest cocoa-growing countries, Ivory Coast and Ghana, work in cocoa farming, the study reports.

Together the two nations produce around two-thirds of the world’s cocoa beans.

On every second cocoa farm there, children as young as five have to pitch in instead of going to school because their parents are too poor to hire farm hands.

Children are even used for more dangerous work, such as weeding or harvesting with machetes.

Source: Africa: Child labour remains a major concern in the chocolate industry 20 years after promises were made“, from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

In regions like Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, top cocoa producing countries, 17-25% of cocoa farms remain untraceable. This revelation poses a critical question: How can we truly certify that the chocolate bar comes from a cocoa farm that follows sustainable and ethical practices?

As we just passed Halloween, a holiday where so many children consume chocolate, Prof Autheman noted the recent episode from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO.

John Oliver discussed chocolate, cocoa farming, and, some facts that make Halloween a little weird.

This is not only an eye-opener but also a call to action. The path to address this issue starts with understanding and ends with a collective effort to change the narrative—one where education triumphs over exploitation.

As we strive for sweet indulgences in our lives, let’s be aware of the stories behind them.

Thank you to Charles for your passion and amazing ability of engaging those around you. I enjoyed being part of your class today!

Keep an eye out – The Geneva Center for Business and Human Rights (a leading member of the GBSN for BHR Impact Community) is currently developing a report that delves into the underlying reasons for child labor within the cocoa sector, aiming to identify effective solutions. The report is meant to be published at the end of this month.

Interested in business and human rights? Join our BHR Impact Community to get involved, stay connected and informed.