Child Laboring in Cocoa Fields

Fair Trade Judaica is excited to bring you this guest blog by Jesse Noily, 12 years old of Oakland, CA.  He was introduced to our “Bean of Affliction: Chocolate, Child Labor, and Choosing Fair Trade” campaign at a friend’s Passover Seder.  He decided to focus on this issue for a year-end report at school.  After watching “The Dark Side of Chocolate” DVD and visiting a local fair trade chocolate company, he wrote this report and made a video (Coming soon!).  If you’d like to watch or show the DVD, here’s a link to it and our screening guide:



By Jesse Noily
The Story of My Search

            Chocolate. There is something so wonderful about it. Something so magically innocent about the milky, sweet Hershey’s bar. Or so I thought a couple weeks ago, when I first started this project. I hadn’t thought at all about where my chocolate came from. I had greedily eaten my heart out every Halloween, and on Valentine’s Day I nibbled away all the pink Reese’s and mini Nestle Crunch’s that had stuffed my valentine bag. And on my own valentines, I had carelessly put small Hershey’s bars, classic milk chocolate and dark with almonds, Krackel and Mr. Goodbar. But if I had known then what I know now I would have hated myself. I remember the day when I was first introduced to the idea of slaves making chocolate. It was Pesach (a Jewish holiday celebrating freedom), and we were celebrating with a Seder (traditional feast) at our friend’s house.

            Now our friends are not…traditional Jews and so at the end of Seder, when the adults are supposed to give the kids a gift, they gave me two packages of some obscure chocolate. One was made by a company called TCHO the other by Alter Eco. They then explained (more to my parents then to me) that most chocolate made by big corporations like Hershey’s and Nestle are non fair-trade, meaning that the people who harvest the cacao are slaves, kidnapped from their families and forced to work. I ate the chocolate, liked it, and forgot about it for about a year. But when we were assigned to write a report on s social justice topic, it immediately sprang back to mind. I love chocolate and it angered me that people were actually smuggling children, forcing them to work, paying them from less than minimum wage to nothing, and if they don’t work, or if they ask for more pay, they could be severely beaten or worse. It angered me how all these companies had covered up these facts so well. But mostly it angered me that all this time I had eaten away at these inglorious goodies the whole twelve years I’ve been in this world, and have been clueless as to where the actual chocolate came from.

            I started my search with my friend Nico. For our extension activity we wanted to do a movie together, so it would make sense to write about the same topic. When we first started researching, I thought it was going pretty easy. There were a lot of websites that had really useful information. A LOT of websites. But then suddenly it became obvious that all these websites and articles were saying pretty much the same thing. For a while I had the idea that wasn’t a lot to say about slavery in chocolate making. Then I realized I was only hitting the surface of my research. I went to the databases, and found some very interesting articles on kids protesting non fair-trade chocolate and boycotting Hershey’s and Nestle, and me and Nico watched a documentary called “The Dark Side of Chocolate,” about two documentarians who went undercover to a cacao plantation. Then I realized that this report was going to be a lot of fun.

 What I Learned

             For what I learned, I’d like to start with talk about how the whole chocolate making process works.  First I’ll start with non-fair trade. What trafficking literally means is trading and smuggling something stolen. In this case, the stolen goods are children. Children are lured away by the traffickers. They are offered money or a new bike, and when the children come close enough to collect their prize, they are grabbed by the traffickers and forced onto their motorbikes. In some cases, the traffickers circle a group of children with their motorbikes, fighting over who gets the best child. When the children are on the motorbikes, the traffickers drive them along a secret dirt road to the Ivory Coast, where all the major cacao plantations are. The kids are sold to the trafficker gets out of there with his money. The child is then forced to work, usually getting paid nothing, and just fed a few scraps to keep them going. What the child does is go around all the trees to find cacao pods (big, ovalish, smooth, long gourd like buds) and cut them off the cacao trees (Mistrati). You may ask why they can’t just have a machine do all this work. Well, the reason why they can is because of the way the pods grow on the tree. They just pop out from the branches and trunk like a person with odd growths sticking out all over their body. So anyway these kids walk around with huge machetes all day, cutting off the pods and putting them in a huge pile. All day, everyday, no breaks, no rest. The cacao pods are then opened up by other workers. When you open a cacao pod, what comes out is this white, larva-ish, marshmallow-like goo pods. In side these liquidy shells are the cacao beans. The cacao beans, after being taken out of their pods, are then shipped to all the major companies, who then roast them, turn them into cocoa butter and cocoa mass. Then those two ingredients are mixed with vanilla, sugar, soy lecithin and milk to create an ordinary Hershey’s milk chocolate bar (For a Crunch bar just add rice crisps).

            Now I’ll tell you the same process but with a fair trade company. For some companies, like TCHO, the CEOs actually go meet the people who make their chocolate. They make sure that their living is healthy, that they’re given enough to eat, and that all the worker are NOT slaves, and there are no children working either. They call this “going beyond fair trade.” The true definition of “fair trade” is that the trade is carried on legally and all the workers are paid a fair amount.  You see, its not like all the big companies have their own separate plantations. Hershey’s, Nestle, and Mars all buy their chocolate from the International Chocolate Company and the ICC buys their chocolate from all the small, unknown plantations that usually have child slaves working for them. But not TCHO. TCHO is making a point of making sure that the plantations where they buy their cacao from are fair trade. After being fermented at the plantation, it is then transported to their headquarters in San Francisco, where it is made into chocolate bars. That’s fair-trade. It is so simple.

            Equal Exchange is a fair trade company that sells bananas, coffee, and of course, chocolate. To avoid trafficking, Equal Exchange actually buys from no plantations in Africa, where all the trafficking is (Evans). This may sound ridiculous to you, but the truth is that cacao trees are actually native to South America, but they can grow between twenty and thirty degrees of latitude from the Equator.  You may be asking why all the companies don’t use fair-trade chocolate. I think the main reason is it’s just easier. There’s no international company for fair trade chocolate! The only way to sell fair trade chocolate is to make your own chocolate. Either that or use a different fair trade company’s chocolate, which is illegal. Another thing is it’s cheaper. The small plantations sell their cocoa beans to the ICC (International Chocolate Company) for maybe a dollar a pound. That makes it possible for the ICC to sell the beans to the companies for very little. Compare that to making several plantations of your own. Can you imagine how much that would cost? All this makes me admire fair trade companies even more. They could have saved a lot more money if they weren’t fair trade, but they decided to be instead. That decision is based on totally moral value.


             This project was a lot of fun. As I was doing it, I felt a lot more like an investigator/rebel/detective than a school child doing a report. I had proof and statistics. I had interviews and phone calls. I was a reporter! I demanded the truth! I was determined to find the truth. It sounds cheesy, I know, but when there’s injustice in the world you have to be a little bit cheesy. You have to know the truth and fight against it. When I started to learn about the injustice that was happened to make the chocolate that I’ve loved my whole life, I started to snarl whenever I saw a Hershey’s bar. Whenever we went to whole foods I’d by a bar or two of TCHO or Alter Eco or Equal Exchange. I found out how much better they tasted compared to a sugar loaded Nestle bar. I told people about what I was doing, and I hope they changed their habits as well. I emailed the International Chocolate Company, saying that I wondered if they knew who actually harvested their chocolate. They never emailed back, but I really hope they read it, and maybe someone there would go to Africa and actually see what’s going on there.

Work Cited

“Interview With TCHO.” Interview by Jesse Lev Felder-Noily and Nico Ruben Inchausti. Print.

The Dark Side of Chocolate: Child Trafficking and Illegal Child Labor in the Cocoa Industry. Dir. Miki Mistrati and U. Roberto Roberto Romano. Danish Broadcasting Corporation, 2010. DVD.

Crossdale, Akilah. “TCHO Factory Presentation.” TCHO Factory Tour. TCHO Factory, San Francisco. 7 May 2012. Lecture

Evans, Kelsie, Equal Exchange. “Questions About Fair Trade Chocolate.” Message to the author. 4 May 2012. E-mail.