Is Your Vegan Chocolate Bar Cruelty-free?
By Global Vegans
Sign our Petition and Say NO to the Vegan Society Trademark
on the Nestle's KitKat and Say NO to Child Slavery
By Global Vegans
How would you define veganism? Regardless of whether you are vegan or not, you would almost certainly use the term ‘ethical’ or ‘cruelty-free’ in your description of the lifestyle. This is something the vegan community has always prided itself on: for many of us, a desire to live as compassionately and sustainably as possible is the driving force behind our decision to go animal-free in every corner of our lives. This isn’t a generalisation, either. A 2018 poll found that an ‘ethical motivation’ spurred more than half of the UK’s vegans into adopting the lifestyle, with health, religion and allergies following behind. (1)
Yet, we’ve noticed the beginning of what we believe will be a seismic shift within the vegan community - largely motivated by the growing realisation that ethical veganism cannot fight for animal rights alone. We must also fight to protect human rights.
This has become more apparent than ever before.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that Nestlé would be receiving The Vegan Society’s stamp of approval for their new vegan KitKat - despite being defendants in an ongoing child labour lawsuit. The case, which sees eight former child slaves sue some of the world’s largest confectionery conglomerates, begs an important question: how can the vegan community justify supporting unethical chocolate production?
Chocolate manufacturing has a long and deeply unsettling history of benefitting from forced labour. With cocoa beans growing primarily in the tropical climates of Africa, Asia and Latin America, our ability to buy chocolate cheaply in the UK shows that not everyone in the supply chain is being treated or paid fairly. Many of these are children from Ghana and the Ivory Coast, two West African countries that supply 65% of the world’s cocoa. (2)
In these countries alone, it is estimated that over 1.5 million children between the ages of 5-17 work harvesting and transporting cocoa beans. (3) This is laborious, intensive and often dangerous work, with young children forced to use sharp machetes and chainsaws to cut cocoa pods from tall trees. The frequent use of toxic fertilisers and pesticides also leaves children at risk of inhaling fumes and suffering chemical burns, with a lack of appropriate clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE) exacerbating the issue.
Instead of receiving an education or having the time and freedom to play, child slaves are forced to work long and difficult hours, often for very little remuneration. This could be less than $2 per day - and that’s if they are paid at all. (4) For many children, working for the cocoa bean industry is not a choice. Although some find work on cocoa farms to support their families, there is another insidious event at play: trafficking. With their travel documentation withdrawn and the threat of physical violence imminent, abducted child slaves have no option but to work around the clock.
There are punishments for children who don’t work quickly enough - and the consequences are even more severe for children who try to escape. According to former child labourers, common punishments included being beaten, being whipped, and even having their feet sliced open. (5) It is difficult to accept that any of us have contributed to the trauma and suffering of children in this way.
Yet, unknowingly or not, each of us has. Avoiding dairy chocolate products does not detract from this fact. A vegan chocolate bar may contribute to less exploitation than a non-vegan chocolate bar through the very nature of it being free from milk, but any product that exists by compromising human rights is never without cruelty. Ultimately, we cannot assume that all vegan chocolate bars are cruelty-free until every brand is committed to supporting ethical cocoa bean farming. This means buying from plantations run by legal-age farmers who are paid and treated justly.
As a community that prides itself on questioning and challenging the production processes behind the foods we eat, we cannot close our eyes or ears to the ongoing child slavery lawsuit against Nestlé, Mars, Hershey and the other greedy corporations that benefit from such human rights violations. It reflects a much wider issue, and one we must be prepared to unpack and fight against in the name of living ethically.
So, what can we do?
There’s one thing we can’t do, and that is to expect corporations like Nestlé to make a change without intense public pressure. Despite committing to the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001 (a pledge which only commits to tackling the ‘worst forms’ of child labour) (6) and facing numerous child slavery accusations, the 2021 lawsuit shows that Nestlé is yet to do more than try to save their public image with scripted apologies.
This is summed up perfectly by Charity Ryerson, who told the Guardian: ‘In the past 20 years, the cocoa industry has invested enormous skill and resources in public relations around sustainability, but the increase in child labour demonstrates it has utterly failed to bring that same expertise and investment to create real sustainability.’ (7)
Challenging large corporations head-on might be difficult, but it’s our responsibility as vegans to withdraw our support entirely for any brands with links to child slavery. This means saying no to any chocolate bars produced by guilty companies, including Nestlé.
However, as we consider in our latest article (When is Vegan Not Vegan?), we must also encourage The Vegan Society to refuse affiliations with any company that cannot prove it operates without child slavery.(8) This means withdrawing its Vegan Trademark from the KitKat due to be released this year.
If chocolate bars rely on child slavery, their ingredients list does not matter: they do not protect human rights, and therefore cannot be considered cruelty-free. If they aren’t cruelty-free, they cannot be vegan. We need to work towards a future where the two terms are synonymous, and where the vegan community fights for the rights of human and non-human animals alike.
To get involved with our campaign, please sign our petition via the link below. Your signature will help us show The Vegan Society that the vegan community doesn’t want another chocolate bar: we want justice.
1. "Reasons For Being Vegan UK 2018 | Statista", Statista, 2021 <https://www.statista.com/statistics/1066771/main-reasons-for-being-vegan-in-the-united-kingdom/> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
2. Nellie Peyton, "Ghana, Ivory Coast Cocoa Floor Price Seen As Small Step Toward Ending Child Labour", U.S., 2019 <https://www.reuters.com/article/cocoa-ivorycoast-ghana-child-labour-idUSL8N23L3DJ> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
3. Oliver Balch, "Chocolate Industry Slammed For Failure To Crack Down On Child Labour", The Guardian, 2020 <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/oct/20/chocolate-industry-slammed-for-failure-to-crack-down-on-child-labour> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
4. Peyton, 2019.
5. Joe Sandler Clarke, "Child Labour On Nestlé Farms: Chocolate Giant's Problems Continue", The Guardian, 2015 <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/sep/02/child-labour-on-nestle-farms-chocolate-giants-problems-continue> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
6. "Protocol For The Growing And Processing Of Cocoa Beans And Their Derivative Products In A Manner That Complies With ILO Convention 182", Cocoainitiative.Org, 2001 <https://cocoainitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Harkin_Engel_Protocol.pdf> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
7. Balch, 2020.
8. Global Vegans, Globalvegans.Com, 2021 <https://www.globalvegans.com/vegan-news-10/when-is-vegan-not-vegan%3F> [Accessed 28 March 2021].