Annual 'Chocolate Scorecard' ranks best chocolate companies for fair trade: General Mills, Walmart among worst

Chocolate in all its forms is intended to bring joy to those receiving the delicious treat. 

Yet, the sources of these delicious treats are more sinister than one would expect. 

Sixty percent or more of the world’s cocoa is produced in the Ivory Coast and Ghana in West Africa. These countries are notorious for the worst forms of child slavery. According to a 2019 report by the Associated Press, an estimated 1.9 million children were engaged in forced labor on the Ivory Coast alone. 

Major U.S. chocolate manufacturers are aware of this. And yet you will find no mention of the potential use of child slave labor in their supply chain on their pretty packaging. 

But Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars detailed on their websites their efforts to try to reduce slave labor in their supply chain. 

Despite many U.S. companies claiming to put an end to the atrocities of child slave labor involved in the manufacturing of their product, the Chocolate Scorecard, which conducts an annual assessment, has found that some of the biggest U.S. suppliers of chocolate to the general public are the worst offenders when it comes to unethical business practices. 

Conducted by a group of international academics including 37 civil society groups from nations where cocoa is produced, a report card is released every spring when millions of Americans are picking up chocolate bunnies for Easter. 

"The Chocolate Scorecard ranks and grades chocolate companies on key sustainability issues. We estimate up to 95% of the chocolate industry is captured by the Chocolate Scorecard. The Chocolate Collective is coordinated by Be Slavery Free, with universities, consultants, and civil society groups engaging in transforming the chocolate industry. Meet the team behind the Chocolate Scorecard here," the Chocolate Scorecard’s website states. 

Major brands like Kellog’s, Walmart, General Mills and Hershey received abysmal scores while some of the most sustainable chocolate companies included more lesser known brands like Tony’s and Beyond Good. 

You can read the full report and grading scale on the Chocolate Scorecard website

The effort to make major companies more transparent in how they source their products has been going on for years. 

In 2016, consumers filed class-action lawsuits — meaning they grouped together the claims of all consumers — against Mars, Nestlé and Hershey. They argued that by failing to disclose the use of child labor in their supply chain, these companies were violating California’s consumer production laws. In other words, the consumers claimed that they and other consumers would not have bought the chocolate, or would not have paid as much for it, had they known that the cocoa was harvested on the backs of children.

The chocolate companies argued that they had no duty to disclose this fact under California law. They argued that disclosing the problems with child labor on their websites is enough — and the court agreed. Not exactly comforting for the consumer, is it?

This problem is so widespread that three new consumer class actions were filed in Massachusetts in early 2018 against Hershey, Nestlé and Mars, again alleging the chocolate companies deceived consumers by not disclosing the presence of child labor in the sourcing of their cocoa.

You can look at labels to determine if it is slave-free or child labor-free. According to the website, organic and fair-trade chocolate is almost always ethically grown, as is cocoa from outside West Africa. And you can look for these labels: Fairtrade Certified, Fair Trade Federation, Rainforest Alliance Certified, UTZ certified cocoa and Fair for Life.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.