The release of the documentary, ‘Slavery: A Global Investigation,’ sparked international awareness about the illegal and unethical practices confectionary corporations have on their supply chain. Since the release, many corporations have come under fire and have been attacked by stakeholders such as NGO’s, that question their involvement.

The Hershey Company’s senior vice-president, Robert M. Reese stated to the Philadelphia Inquirer,

No one, repeat, no one, had ever heard of this.

The news of the terrible working conditions and the use of child labor in West Africa made such an impact that congress became involved. U.S. Representative, Eliot Engel drafted a legislation to develop a label that corporations had to comply with. The label will indicate which products had no involvement with child labor practices in cocoa plantations and farms. The bill was ready to be approved and had a lot of support from the House of Representatives and senate. However, before the bill was sent to be voted, the corporations involved in the cocoa industry, including the Hershey company, agreed to collaborate together in order to address and abolish the use of child labor.

Thus, in 2001, the Harkin-Engel legislation was established. This legislation is,

An international agreement that aimed to end the worst forms of child labor and forced labor in the production of cocoa.

The deadline was made to be 2005, but it has been pushed further to 2020.

The Response

The 2005 deadline was not met by corporations (including the Hershey company),

Some of the reasons:

  • The corporations tried to use as little monetary input as they could in implementing the protocols.
  • Corporations did not alter the prices of chocolate in order to help abolish slavery.
  • Corporations were not fully involved and were still using a business model that was dependent on child labor in supply chains.

In 2015, the Hershey company, Mars and Nestlé was sued for not disclosing on their packaging that child labor was used in the production process. The court dismissed the lawsuits claiming,

While the use of cocoa beans from areas that employ slave labor is an ethical question for the companies, the law does not require a disclosure on their product labels.

Hershey’s head of corporate communication Jeff Beckman said in response to the dismissal of the lawsuit,

The allegations in the lawsuit are not new and reflect long-term challenges in cocoa-growing countries that many stakeholders, including NGOs, companies in the cocoa supply chain and the US government have been working diligently to address for a number of years.


It is 2016 and the Harkin-Engle protocol’s deadline is in 2020. Despite the delay, the Hershey company have taken some actions to meet the 2020 deadline. They have partnered with Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest and leading cocoa producers to develop a program titled, ‘Learn to Grow’ (LTG).

This program aims to train farmers with ‘good environmental, social and agricultural practices on farms.

Their goal is to source 100% certified and sustainable cocoa by 2020- the same deadline as the Harkin-Engle protocol.


Child labor in the cocoa industry is one of the major ethical dilemmas that all corporations involved in the cocoa industry must work together to abolish and eradicate. One company cannot be held fully responsible to the degree and active use of child labor today. The same can be said that, one company cannot fully take on the responsibility or the credit for the eradication of child labor in the industry.

I think it is a group effort, whether there have been positive or negative advances. The Hershey company has made efforts to improve the unethical practices in the cocoa industry, but these improvements and other actions taken are mediocre and lackluster. This is compared to the amount of time the information of child labor practices in the cocoa industry was made available. It was around 2001 that companies could have taken actions. It is now 2016, and they have yet to reap the benefits from the Harkin-Engle protocol.

One other detail about the Harkin-Engle protocol, it aims to abolish the ‘worst forms of child labor.’ This is taken literally and corporations will not fully abolish child labor. Instead, they will only do so to the extent of what is classified as ‘the worst forms of child labor.

Who decides the extent of the worst form of child labor? Is child labor itself not in its worst form? I would like to further reinstate that it takes more than one body to eradicate the ethical dilemma of child labor. It is not only corporations that should take responsibility, but so should other stake holding bodies.