Unwrapping the Bitter Truth of Chocolate:

The Sweet Treat’s Dark Side and How You Can Help


Though it may taste heavenly, the truth is that a lot of the chocolate New Zealanders consume is tainted by child labour and modern slavery. It's a bad taste that no amount of sugar can mask.

But what if it doesn’t have to be this way, and what if you could help change it?

Take action for cocoa workers

Chocolate scorecard logo

This year we've partnered with Be Slavery Free
and a community of like-minded NGOs to bring you:

The Chocolate Scorecard

The largest chocolate companies marketing in New Zealand have been assessed across a range of human rights and sustainability issues to find out what’s really happening in their cocoa supply chains. 

Check out the full Scorecard

Cocoa is chocolate’s signature ingredient. But did you know that cocoa has a high risk of being grown and made using child or forced labour? It’s in the top 25 most exploitative products Kiwis’ import! (1) 

As a country we import an estimated NZ $55 million worth of cocoa each year, and a whopping 28% is considered ‘risky’. (2) As an international humanitarian organisation that works to address modern slavery and support child development around the world, we want to know what chocolate companies are doing to tackle these challenging issues. 

We want to know what our favourite chocolate companies are doing to ensure the safety, wellbeing and fair pay for their cocoa workers. And here’s what we found:     

1.56 Million

children working as child labourers in the cocoa industry in West Africa.


of companies surveyed have a policy to monitor, reduce or eliminate child labour in their supply chain.


of children working in the worst forms of child labour have been identified by programmes in cocoa supply chains.

Policies are a great first step for companies to begin addressing child labour in their supply chain, but a policy alone won’t result in life improvement for a child who is being exploited. We know that child labour is taking place in cocoa supply chains, so it's encouraging that chocolate companies are identifying where this is happening. However, there’s still a long way to go.  

And here’s how they’re each doing across a range of sustainability issues:  

The New Zealand Chocolate Scorecard

Scorecard key

Tiny hands, exploitation and slavery

There are chocolate companies like Tony's Chocolonely and our very own Whittaker’s that are leading the way on practice and policies. 

Whilst there’s been significant improvements over the last few years, there’s no sugar-coating it; when it comes to looking out for children and adults caught in exploitative situations, there’s room for improvement across the entire industry. That’s why we’re advocating for effective modern slavery legislation —a law that would require all large chocolate companies (+ others) in New Zealand to take appropriate action to protect people
Take action for cocoa workers


Let’s unwrap some more of the truth behind our cocoa, and what chocolate companies are doing about it.

West Africa’s Ghana and Coite d’Ivoire are the two biggest cocoa supplying nations. Sadly, around 30,000 people are enslaved on cocoa farms in these two countries—many of whom are migrants and their children from nearby countries. (3)(4) 

In 2019, an investigative journalist asked a boy on a West African cocoa farm how old he was. The boy answered “19”, but in the brief moment the farm overseer looked away, he crouched down and wrote “15” in the sand.(5) He’d been out of school, working to harvest cocoa beans since age 10.

Child labour is a major issue on cocoa farms in West Africa and Brazil. While it’s normal for children all around the world to help their families with work, we call it child labour when this work interferes with their chance at an education, or is damaging to a child’s physical, social or psychological development because it's performed at too young an age. Of the six million people working on cocoa farms in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, 1.56 million are children, some as young as five.(6) Of these, an estimated 16,000 are enslaved; working without pay or unable to leave.

Sun-up to sun-down in the jungle

The children work from sun-up to sun-down in the jungle, hacking weeds, cutting down cocoa pods with machetes, and carrying sacks up to 50kgs long distances on their heads. Some develop hernias from heavy loads and the majority have scars from machete wounds.

At this point, you’re probably feeling it’s not possible to buy chocolate with a clear conscience. Don’t worry—we'll discuss options for purchasing wisely, and ways you can take action further on. But for now, it pays to know the facts to help you on your journey to bring about change. 

How are chocolate companies addressing the issue?

The Chocolate Scorecard

When it comes to creating widespread and lasting change in the chocolate industry, there are a multitude of players with an important role to play – from workers to policy makers, to consumers like you and me. But one of the most significant players are chocolate companies – those who work in the trading, processing, manufacturing and marketing of chocolate. This includes familiar companies like Whittaker’s and Mars, and companies like Barry Callebaut, that have a lower profile with consumers but make a lot of the chocolate smaller companies in New Zealand use.(7)  

The chocolate industry is dominated by a small group of very large companies.

If these companies were to make changes to their business policies, practices and models, the impact across the entire industry would be massive.

That’s why Be Slavery Free don’t just survey these chocolate companies for accountability but work closely with them, supporting them to improve their policies and practices. So, how are the chocolate companies currently doing on addressing exploitation? There’s strong improvement, but there’s still got a long way to go.

Transparency from bean to bar

Cocoa products pass through multiple hands and locations before they arrive at our supermarkets. So, one of the first steps chocolate companies can take to begin addressing their slavery risks is by tracing their entire supply chain; from farmer to retailer. Our Rana Plaza article last year highlighted how the fashion industry has improved in this area, so we were eager to see if it’s the same for cocoa industry.

When companies don’t know where their cocoa is produced, or who grows it, they can’t know what human rights abuses may or may not be happening. We also know that risk of modern slavery and child labour is greatest at the fringes of supply chains, where chocolate companies have less knowledge and control.

This year’s Chocolate Scorecard revealed a step up in companies’ tracing efforts. Last year on average chocolate companies could only trace 57% of their cocoa to its country of origin. This year it has increased to 85%! But whilst there been significant improvement recently, the chocolate industry still has a way to go on this issue. Only about half the world’s cocoa can be traced all the way back to the farmer who grew it.

On average, the amount of companies’ cocoa that’s been traced:


to the country it was grown.


to the farmer group or co-operative


to the farmer who grew it

Bite-sized steps towards addressing child labour

Over 20 years ago the world’s largest chocolate companies signed a cross-sector accord, the Harkin-Engel protocol,(8) collectively promising to end child labour in the cocoa industry by 2005. When that didn’t happen, they promised to reduce it by 70% by 2020. Whilst these promises have fallen short so far, Tearfund’s passion for this cause hasn’t! We’re committed to doing all we can to see a chocolate industry that truly delivers on this promise.   To get there, we want more chocolate companies committed to addressing their child labour risks; not just in their policies but more significantly in their practices.  

The great news is that this year for the first time, 100% of the chocolate companies surveyed have a policy for monitoring, reducing or eliminating child labour in their supply chains. It’s great to hear chocolate company’s commitment to addressing such a crucial issue! But whilst the words are there, the need for further action remains.  

One of the impacting actions large chocolate companies can take is to implement a scheme or a programme to monitor where child labour incidences may be taking place in their supply chains. This scheme could look like trusted members of a local community being trained and employed to work alongside farmers and their families. As well as raising awareness about child labour in a culturally sensitive way, potential cases would be identified. There’s still a way to go when it comes to embedding programmes throughout companies’ supply chains. So far only 55% of chocolate companies’ cocoa supply chains are covered by a programme that addresses child labour.

Thanks to the efforts of chocolate companies,

26% of cases of the worst form of child labour have been uncovered.

The worst form of child labour refers to work that is not only damaging to a child’s development but can harm their health or expose them to danger, like carrying heavy loads or using sharp tools. This means that the combined and diligent efforts of these companies were able to identify approximately 26% of all these cases in Ghana and Cote d‘Ivoire. A tremendous effort! Imagine what could happen if these efforts expanded across more of companies’ supply chains.

We know that identifying cases of child labour alone is not enough. Chocolate companies also need to help the children leave situations of exploitation and put measures in place that prevent their return. We call this process remediation, and it can take different forms. We know that poverty is one of the biggest factors that increases the risk of child labour. So, remediation can often look like a chocolate company partnering with a local NGO to support not just the child, but the wider family and community. It can look like helping children access an education by providing bridging classes to cover what they’ve missed; and supporting a family to diversify their income into other agricultural products beyond cocoa.  

It’s not only chocolate companies that benefit from the exploitation within the industry. We think it’s also important to pay attention to the role that supermarkets and department stores play in contributing to exploitation of the chocolate they sell. Globally, retailers make billions on the sale of chocolate. The 2015 Cocoa Barometer found that retailers take approx. 44% of the total profit of a chocolate bar, with cocoa farmers’ receiving just 6.6%.(9)  

The Chocolate Scorecard also took a look at some of our favourite places to purchase chocolate, to see what they were doing to address sustainability issues within the industry. 

The New Zealand Retailers Scorecard

Scorecard key

What can you do?

Help us raise the bar across the industry

Fashion, footware and of course chocolate

We want to see a world where everyone can work safely, is treated with dignity and is compensated fairly for their labour. We also want to see a world where no child is forced to work to make the chocolate we eat! It’s up to chocolate companies and retailers to raise the bar, and it’s up to us to raise our voices to demand change. Rather than focusing on a few specific chocolate companies, we’re focusing our advocacy on industries right across the board – including fashion, footwear and of course chocolate!  

You may have heard us talk about modern slavery legislation over the last few years. If you haven’t, let us bring you up to speed. Many countries around the world have laws that require companies to report on the modern slavery risks in their supply chains. But New Zealand doesn’t have anything like this, yet.  

With no requirements for companies to have transparent and traceable supply chains, it is extremely difficult for Kiwis to avoid buying risky goods. Those of us passionate about workers being treated with dignity must research a company’s practices. While there are helpful guides like the Chocolate Scorecard or the Ethical Fashion Report, these don’t exist for every industry.

Introduce Modern Slavery Legislation

We think Kiwis should be able to purchase a t-shirt, phone, or chocolate bar and know what conditions it was made under.

But more than that – feel assured that whatever the product, companies have taken certain steps to reduce the slavery risks in their supply chain. 

That’s why we’re campaigning for effective modern slavery legislation that requires companies to take action, not just talk about it!  

But wait, didn’t the New Zealand Government already announce they’d introduce modern slavery legislation? They did. But since then, we’ve had an entirely new Government step into power, and they haven’t confirmed they’re taking this legislation forward. We want to make sure they do, and that it actually makes a difference for the children and adults trapped in slavery!


Help Us Sweeten the Deal


We’re sweet talking Minister van Velden into taking action!

We’re reminding the New Zealand government to introduce effective modern slavery legislation.  How are we doing that?  

We’re sending Hon. Brooke van Velden chocolate to remind her why we need this legislation. She’s the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, who’s role it will be to take a lead on this legislation.

We’re sweet talking her into taking action!

We need your help. 
We’re just one voice. 

But when thousands speak out, it reminds Minister van Velden just how important this legislation truly is.  

You can help us amplify this call for action in three easy steps! 


  1. Print our Choc-Alert below
  2. Buy your favourite chocolate bar
  3. Pop them in the post to Minister van Velden:

Hon Brooke Van Velden Private Bag 18888, Parliament Buildings, Wellington 6160 


A Short Guide to Buying Better

So, you’ve wrestled with the realities of exploitation and you’re ready to take action; and you’re wanting to know how you can make smarter choices with your chocolate purchasing. As a chocolate-lover myself, I hear you! The chocolate industry is messy and exploitation is complex, but here’s our suggestions for buying better:  

1. The Chocolate Scorecard focuses on the largest companies in the industry. If you’re thinking of purchasing from one of the big chocolate companies, then we believe it’s best to support those who are leading the industry when it comes to their policies and practices. Look for the green or yellow egg on the New Zealand Chocolate Scorecard.   

But we know there’s many small chocolate companies the Scorecard doesn’t cover. Some of these companies are doing wonderful work to address child labour and slavery, others still don’t know their cocoa supply chain. So, here’s some general rules of thumb:  

2. Ask the company who supplies their cocoa products – it will likely be one of the names on the complete Chocolate Scorecard. If you think there’s room for improvement in their score, ask the company to ask their supplier what their plan is.   

3. If they’re not included, look at their social and environmental information on their website – if they’re not talking about what they’re doing, it’s likely they’re not taking significant action. Ask them what their plan for improvement is.

Want to read more like this?


Footwear: An Industry Laced with Exploitation

What are kiwi footwear companies doing on key human rights and sustainability issues?


Fashion: Still Rising from Rana Plaza’s Rubble 

It’s been ten years since the first Ethical Fashion Report. What’s changed and what still hasn’t in the fashion industry?