Investigation Finds Mars Used Five-Year-Olds for Harvesting Cocoa

( – Candy manufacturer Mars is being accused of exploiting child labor after CBS investigated the supply chain for cocoa beans. The Virginia-based company says it’s committed to eliminating child labor from its operations by 2025. CBS says it’s nowhere near that goal. Is the company really doing its best to stop children being abused overseas?

CBS Makes Shocking Allegations

On November 29, CBS announced the results of an investigation into cocoa farming in Ghana. Cocoa beans are a vital ingredient in chocolate, and big US candy manufacturers import more than $5 billion worth of it every year. Cocoa imports come from several regions, including the Far East and South America, but the biggest producers are the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

CBS investigators traveled through Ghana’s “cocoa belt,” which runs across the south of the country and produces the world’s highest-quality cocoa. There, they found children working on every farm they visited, harvesting pods and chopping them open with machetes to extract the valuable beans. It’s hard and dangerous work, especially as some of the children are as young as five, wielding machetes nearly as long as they are tall. CBS says its reporters saw one child almost chop off his own fingers.

So why is this happening when Mars is one of many companies that’s pledged to eliminate child labor? According to CBS, the company is making only token efforts to make sure children aren’t employed on farms. According to the network, inspectors hired by Mars don’t follow up on individual children to make sure they’ve stopped working and gone to school. A farm supervisor admitted making up lists of children who are attending school, then complained that Mars hadn’t checked that he was telling them the truth.

Whose Fault Is It?

A key point here is that Mars doesn’t actually own the cocoa farms. Instead, it buys Ghanaian cocoa from suppliers, who, in turn, either own the farms or buy the beans from them. A statement from Mars said “Our cocoa suppliers in Ghana have agreed to adhere to our robust Supplier Code of Conduct” and insists that the company condemns the use of child labor.

The question is, how much control can a US company be expected to have over farms on another continent? Human rights attorney Terry Collingsworth thinks they should be able to make sure no children are employed harvesting cocoa; he’s filed a class action suit against several US chocolate manufacturers, including Mars. But when children are under pressure to bring in an income, and local officials admit to making up the information they send to Mars and other companies, how realistic is that goal?

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