The data to follow is based on my research in the fall of 2010. Hershey’s hasn’t budged since then.
Every year thousands of children are kidnapped, trafficked, and sold to cocoa plantations. The average price per child: $1.20-1.90. The rate of pay: $.01 for chocolate that is sold for $1 in the United States. Sometimes they aren’t paid at all. Often, these child slaves have no concept of chocolate. Rather, they are forced to endure 12-18 hour workdays, handle machetes without proper training, climb high trees – while exposed to hazardous chemicals in a treacherous climate. Should they rebel or perform “poorly,” they are beaten. Should they try to escape, they are killed. A vast majority of these known abuses –over 15,000 annually- occur in West Africa’s Ivory Coast.
While Hershey’s claims moral outrage, it continues business with the Ivory Coast. Meanwhile other big chocolate companies, and many smaller ones, act to ensure exploitation-free products. Certainly the world’s largest chocolate corporation, boasting over $5 billion in revenue annually, can afford to take a stance.
Fortunately there are plenty of alternatives. The most assuredly exploitation-free chocolate carries a Fair Trade Label. This international monitoring system guarantees a minimum price for farmers, prohibits forced and abusive labor, and promotes environmental sustainability. We pay more for this chocolate, but dollars go directly to the development of community resources, such as schools or hospitals. Fair trade cocoa originates in Belize, Bolivia, Cameroon, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ghana, Nicaragua, and Peru. To find out cocoa’s source, simply look at the back label.
A second option is organic chocolate (e.g., Newman’s Organics). This is also a fairly safe choice, as organic farms have their own systems of independent monitoring that checks labor practices. Plus, cocoa beans are not grown organically in the Ivory Coast.
There’s much guesstimating in this area. Here's my best effort to delineate some of the “good” vs the “bad.” On the good team, I included companies that have begun socially conscious efforts.
There’s plenty of slavery-free chocolate, too, that is neither Fair Trade Certified nor organic. When in doubt, avoid Hershey’s.
Good Chocolate: Cadbury Canada, Ben & Jerry's, Starbuck's, Ah!laska, Endangered Species, Ithaca, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Newman's Organics, Clif Bar, Guittard, Green and Black's, Mayordomo/Mexican chocolate, European chocolate, Nirvana, Rapunzel, smaller mom & pop brands, and lots more.
Bad Chocolate: Hershey’s and any chocolate from West Africa's Ivory Coast, Mars/M&M's, Dove, Dagoba (taken over by Hershey's, though they do have at least one fair trade chocolate bar), Scharffen Berger (also taken over by Hershey's).
Finally, here are some folks fighting the good fight, and my sources of this information:
Fair Trade Labeling Organization
Fair Trade Candy Blog
International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements