Is your honey real?

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Honey is one of my favorite sweeteners. And I’m not alone. The global demand for honey is extremely high with the market size value in 2020 at 9.79 billion. But are we buying the authentic thing?

This high demand has resulted in market fraud and adulteration. Insider has stated that honey is the third-most-faked food in the world behind milk and olive oil. Assessing the quality of honey can be difficult because of the production process or adulteration with cane sugar or other ingredients.

In the United States, 400 million pounds of honey ends up in our food every year. Most of it is adulterated product from China. Manufacturers either dilute real honey by adding syrups derived from plants or they chemically modify the sugars in those syrups so they look like real honey. Honey consumers in the U.S., and across the globe, are being duped and need to be made more aware of how to tell if the honey they purchased is real or fake.

Here are several ways to spot fakes:

  1. Crystallization – real honey crystallizes over a period of time once kept in a cool dark place. Adulterated honey will always retain the same consistency.
  2. Water test – drop a teaspoon of honey in water. If the honey is pure, it will not easily mix with water but will become slightly thicker in texture.
  3. Microwave test/heat test – place a bowl of honey in the microwave and heat it for a minute. If it caramelizes, then it is real honey. If it bubbles, it is not.
  4. Paper test – put 2 teaspoons of honey on a plate and put paper on it. If the paper soaks the honey, then it is adulterated.

As the demand for honey increases, one would expect that the price of honey would increase. However, the opposite has occurred since the supply of adulterated honey has increased and driven global honey prices down. This has resulted in beekeepers barely being able to sell their honey for a profit.

Another major issue that adulterated honey causes is the threat to pollination and our food systems. Vice highlights that bees help produce 90 commercially-grown crops in the U.S. and have brought in over $24 billion to the economy. Without beekeepers, we would have a failed food system.

Consumers should seek out raw, organic, unadulterated honey that will not have negative impacts on our beekeepers, our crop, and our economy. If you buy a plant-based burger, you would like to know the nutritional value and ingredients of the product and it should be the same for honey or any product that we consume.

I would recommend that each consumer watch the Netflix documentary Rotten. The episode called “Lawyers, Guns and Honey” shows the reasons behind low production of authentic honey and the impact of the dwindling bee population on our environment.

What’s the real cost of a banana?

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow
When we buy a product at our local grocery store, we sometimes do not think of how the product was sourced or what it took to get it to our shopping cart. One such commonly consumed product are bananas. With more than a billion eaten yearly, it’s one of the top five fruits consumed worldwide. Let us ask the question, “what is the real cost of a banana?” by diving deeper into the banana industry and, specifically, its exploitation of child labor.

According to the International Labor Organization, child labor is defined as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” Globally, 152 million children are trapped in child labor, highlighting the extent of the problem. The banana industry is just one of many industries using child labor. The two regions that are the largest producers of bananas are Asia and Latin America.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2017 Findings of the Worst Forms of Child Labor, 57 percent of child laborers in Brazil were working in agriculture, with high concentration in the North and the Northeast regions. In Brazil, the Government of Brazil’s Household Survey estimated that 2,936 children under the age of 14 were involved in cultivating bananas in 2015. When Oxfam New Zealand interviewed households in banana plantation towns in the Philippines, they found that 22.5 percent reported having a child working.

Banana plantation laborers in the Philippines may be hired by middlemen who deploy them to different plantations or farms owned by corporate growers, Oxfam New Zealand found. On these banana plantations, child laborers are assigned to bagging and stripping of banana leaves. These growers then sell bananas to major global brands such as Dole, Chiquita, or Del Monte.

The U.S. imported over $2.8 billion in bananas which is 17.6 percent of total imported bananas in 2019 according to World Top Exports. As consumers, we have the power to demand that companies create non-exploitative, fair trade, and child labor free products. Consumers need to take a stance against products made with child labor, which would put pressure on companies to implement fair and ethical policies governed by accountability measures. It is an indisputable truth that how you spend your money can literally affect the lives of millions around the world.

As consumers in a country with dominant economic power, it is imperative for us to learn about the origins of the products we use. We all must do our part. One way to start is to download an app called Sweat & Toil—created by the U.S. Department of Labor—which lets you:

  1. check countries’ efforts to eliminate child labor;
  2. find child labor data;
  3. browse goods produced with child labor or forced labor;
  4. review local and international laws and ratifications; and
  5. see what governments can do to end child labor.

The other way consumers can make more responsible decisions is by visiting the Equal Exchange online and via social media. In 1986, Equal Exchange became a pioneer in fair trade coffee by paying mutually agreed upon prices with a guaranteed minimum to small-scale coffee farmers. And in 2006, it began working towards applying this model to bananas. Equal Exchange bananas are grown at three small farmer cooperatives in Ecuador and Peru. Through democratically organized co-ops, farmers leverage collective resources and obtain access to global markets, maintaining agency over their businesses, land, and livelihoods. Consumers can request these bananas from their local grocery stores.

The banana industry continues to engage in unfair labor practices, subject workers to dangerous working conditions, and perpetuate global inequalities. Let us be informed consumers and take action to stop child labor by supporting certified, fair trade organic bananas.

Minimum wage gets a boost in state initiatives

Did you know that Arkansas will soon have the highest minimum wage in the United States at $9.25 an hour come January 2019? A quarter of the state’s workers will get a raise! Missouri isn’t far behind, with an initiative passing this fall as well.

As Congress and state legislatures remain in gridlock and unable to move progressive legislation, another very hopeful phenomenon is playing out through the initiative process, even in deep red states. Ballot initiatives are allowing citizens to directly support legislative reforms. As the Arkansas example shows, the greatest beneficiaries are those making minimum wages.

The federal minimum wage is stuck at a paltry $7.25;  for seven years, Congress has taken no action to change that. But 29 states, from Maine to Hawaii, and more than a dozen cities have increased their minimum wages. This translates into 60 percent of minimum wage workers making higher than the federal floor, adding $5 billion to the paychecks of 4.5 million low-wage workers.

Ten states are boosting their wage floors step by step, including California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington. Automatic cost-of-living increases will kick in in eight other states: Alaska, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, and South Dakota.

But let’s give credit where credit is due. The “Fight for $15” movement launched a campaign in liberal areas, first winning at Seattle Tacoma Airport in November 2013 with a referendum for $15 an hour. Within two years, New York and California had adopted $15 an hour as their target. The only thing that is slowing this campaign is state legislatures. When Albuquerque, Chicago, Los Angeles, Providence, Kansas City, San Francisco, San Diego, and Santa Fe each adopted their own minimum wage laws, 18 state legislatures passed laws preempting cities from increasing minimum wages.

Even the liberal DC City Council overruled Initiative 77, which would have done away with tipped wages and ensured all workers in the District earn the minimum wage.

The takeaway here is that increasing the minimum wage turns out to be very popular when placed on the ballot by initiative, even in red states like Arkansas. But reactionary state legislatures, bowing to pressure from the business community, too often work to undo these laws.

We are also cheered by Amazon’s announcement that it will pay all its workforce a base $15 minimum wage and JPMorganChase will pay $18 as a base wage.

Things are looking up for hourly workers. Florence Kelley, NCL’s General Secretary for our first 33 years and drafter of the first minimum wage laws in the United States, is surely smiling down upon us!

NCL’s experiences with Initiative 77, DC’s repealed One Fair Wage attempt

Earlier this month, DC City council voted to repeal Initiative 77 in an 8-5 vote. The initiative, which was supported by DC residents by a 55-44% vote, would have eliminated the gap between the “tipped credit” and minimum wage for restaurant workers and ensure that all tipped workers get the minimum wage that other workers are entitled to.

As it stands, tipped workers in Washington DC get a base tipped wage of $3.89 per hour plus tips. If workers don’t get the minimum wage—which is currently $13.25 an hour in DC—employers are supposed to make up the difference. Initiative 77 was intended to shift the burden of ensuring wage equality from consumers to employers, where we believe it actually belongs.

National Consumers League took a personal interest in this issue because of our extensive history with raising the minimum wage over the decades. We testified before the DC City Council in support of Initiative 77 in what was a marathon hearing that started at 11 am and ended at 3 am. In our testimonies, we emphasized the extensive history of the minimum wage laws unfairly carving out tipped workers, while stressing the importance of ensuring that DC’s most vulnerable make an equitable wage. Our testimonies also included the personal experiences of a staff member that has worked in various front-of-house and back-of-house restaurant positions at businesses in Oregon, a one fair wage state, and Georgia, a non-one fair wage state.

Supporters of the Initiative were, by and large, people of color or professionals with extensive experience in labor law or wage policy. The most vocal opponents of the bill were restaurant employees or small restaurant owners in DC’s most affluent neighborhoods. Opponents followed what seemed to be scripted testimony, arguing that Initiative 77 was a bad bill because it came from “outside of DC” or that implementing it would be the first step of a “grand plan” to eliminate tipping.

In our view, the public hearing showed a clear bias for those opposed to Initiative 77. DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson—an avowed opponent—led the hearing. Witnesses in favor of repeal were stacked onto the beginning of the hearing, while key supporters of Initiative 77 spoke much later—well after many of the councilmembers had left. Sadly, the council showed a lack of understanding about Initiative 77 and its potential impact on DC as a whole.

Opponents on the Council also expressed opposition to any type of compromise to Initiative 77. At no point during the hearing, did Chairman Mendelson or Councilmember Jack Evans—also an avowed opponent—suggest that they were open to a compromise or that they were willing to meet with groups to address concerns about the plight of tipped workers in DC. Mendelson went so far as to attack one witness from the Restaurant Opportunities Center’s DC office (ROC-DC) when he called the woman back on the stand and suggested she was a plant used by ROC to gather support for the bill. Despite this, ROC-DC and other advocates appeared more than reasonable, suggesting potential compromises; offering an extended timeline for wage increases, tax cuts, and others. Many of the council members that voted for the repeal—most notably Councilmembers Jack Evans (Ward 2), Phil Mendelson (Chairman), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), and Anita Bonds (At-Large)—kept saying that 77 used deceptive language to sway voters. “The language in [Initiative 77] was misleading at best, dishonest at worst,” said Mendelson shortly before the October vote. Why? He didn’t say.

Yet the campaign slogan for those opposed to 77 was “Save Our Tips” despite there being no restriction of the tipping practice in the Initiative 77 bill. We believe that voters were not duped and that the bill passed in every ward, besides Ward 3, because DC’s residents wanted to better the lives of tipped workers. As Councilmember Robert White Jr. said in the public hearing, “[we] cannot assume that voters were ignorant after a campaign of fierce campaigning on both sides.”

Nevertheless, the DC Council voted in favor of repealing the bill. In spite of the sensible wage protection policy offered, the repeal of a measure that reflected the will of the people in the District Of Columbia, which is exactly what 77 was. Initiative 77 is another example of hardworking employees losing to big money—the National Restaurant Association spent millions to defeat 77 and when they lost that battle, persuaded the DC Council to overturn it—and ultimately being ignored. Voters showed up and overwhelmingly voted in favor of Initiative 77, yet the council responded by telling voters that their vote doesn’t matter and their voice is not important. What a sad day for democracy in our nation’s capital.

Thank you to the  DC City Council members that respected the votes of DC residents and supported the remedying of wage inequality by voting for Initiative 77.

Charles Allen (Ward 6)

Mary M. Cheh (Ward 3)

Brianne K. Nadeau (Ward 1)

Elissa Silverman (At-Large)

Robert White, Jr. (At-Large)

Labor Day reflections: Challenging time for U.S. workers – National Consumers League

As another summer winds down, and we plan for one last extended weekend before turning the page onto fall, Labor Day offers a time to reflect on the increasingly challenging environment that working families face securing fair wages, benefits, and working conditions.

Currently 16,000 members of the United Steelworkers union are waiting to hear whether they’ll be going on strike when their employment contract with U.S. Steel expires in just days. Union and management are reported to be at a near-stalemate over a new contract that the union has described as “extremely insulting” and would offer marginal wage increases for workers, who would be locked into a proposed 7-year term.

For the first time, incarcerated workers are courageously raising their voices, and are in the middle of a multi-week, nation-wide strike organized in response to the slave-labor wages they are forced to accept as further punishment for their lives behind bars. It’s shameful that we treat prisoners like chattel.

And the courts continue to batter workers, spurred on by a Chamber of Congress and a business community that attack working folks’ right to organize at every turn. Earlier this summer, a narrow 5-4 anti-worker and anti-union ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME, found hat unions cannot collect “fair share fees” from workers who have not joined the union but receive the benefits of organizing—a major blow to unions in their efforts to improve working conditions for all employees.

In Washington, DC, where NCL is headquartered, we are fighting alongside restaurant and other hourly workers to preserve Initiative 77 from being rescinded by the D.C. City Council. Initiative 77, a worker-led campaign that passed by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin, would raise the paltry $3.89 hourly tipped wage by $1.50 a year until it reaches $15 by 2025. After its passage, seven members of D.C. City Council pledged to overturn the initiative, undermining the 46,000 DC voters who supported it.

Wage theft, misclassification, and other employer abuses continue to plague our workforce, but at the National Consumers League, which was founded by a group of Progressive-era women concerned about factory conditions for workers—including children’s—we will continue to fight for worker protections alongside our allies to ensure that protections for America’s working families are strengthened, not eroded.

Earlier this year, we observed the 80th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act with a national conference. This landmark legislation—which NCL helped to pass in 1938—provided our nation’s basic minimum wage and overtime pay laws, lifted wages, and improved working conditions. But advocates agree that the FLSA is in dire need of updating, and many of the problems facing workers today could be addressed by an FLSA for the 21st Century.

This Labor Day, we are grateful for the improved quality of working conditions for many of our nation’s employees, but we lament the constant attacks on unions, workers’ rights, and fair and equitable working conditions for so many. The struggle continues, and we are proud to be part of it.

Trump and Undermining Public Sector Unions – National Consumers League

By NCL Public Policy intern Melissa Cuddington

This summer has been rife with razor-thin 5-4 Supreme Court rulings. Many of these have been one-vote margins because of the newly added conservative justice and Trump appointee, Neil Gorsuch.

For example, a 5-4 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME at the end of June delivered the dreaded but anticipated blow to public sector unions and the Trump Administration’s goal of weakening the bargaining power and influence of working men and women. Janus, an employee at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, asked the court to overrule a 40-year-old Supreme Court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, requiring public sector workers to contribute to union dues toward collective bargaining costs, such as contract negotiations, but excuses them from paying dues to support political advocacy. Janus argued his $45 monthly fee to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was unconstitutional. He said that the fees infringed on his First Amendment rights, and that, in the case of public employees whose contract negotiations are with the government, the fees were a form of political advocacy.

The Court agreed with Janus and reversed the requirement.

In the wake of the very unfortunate Janus decision, the Administration has issued several executive orders to restrict union activity in the federal government. These include restricting the time that employees can spend on union activity, implementing rules about day-to-day operations and changing government policy at the agency level.

Union leaders at the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) have objected loudly, filing a lawsuit against the Trump Administration to protest his executive order regarding “official time.” Trump’s executive order addresses the use of “official time” to compensate union workers for time spent on representational work.  

Why is it okay for a worker to benefit from better wages, working conditions, benefits like time off and sick leave and not have to help pay for the costs of negotiating those benefits?  Janus and the subsequent Executive Orders have understandably sparked outraged from federal government unions and other advocacy groups like NCL that support working families. One strategy could be, per the OpEd in the New York Times, having state and local governments directly pay unions for their expenses.

Unions are critical to the smooth operations of the federal government, effectively fighting for worker benefits and increased bargaining power for the many hardworking federal employees. The NCL has a long history of fighting for consumers, workers and public sector unions. We regret the Janus decision and its effect of undermining union bargaining power. We join with AFGE and all federal workers in supporting their voice in the workplace.

Event: Addressing Forced and Child Labor in Agricultural Supply Chains – National Consumers League

On Tuesday, June 26, 2018, the Fair Labor Association and the National Consumers League will host an event in Washington, DC to inform key industry and civil society stakeholders about the outcome of a recent pilot project, and to provide lessons learned in implementing the USDA Guidelines for Eliminating Child and Forced Labor in Agricultural Supply Chains.

Co-hosted by the National Consumers League and
the Fair Labor Association

Addressing Forced and Child Labor in Agricultural Supply Chains

Washington, DC

DATE: Tuesday, June 26, 2018
VENUE:  Hall of the States, 444 North Capitol St., Washington, DC
TIMING: 10 AM – 12 PM
RSVP: Please send acceptances/regrets to

On behalf of the Fair Labor Association and the National Consumers League, you are invited to attend an event on Tuesday, June 26, 2018 that will inform key industry and civil society stakeholders about the outcome of a recent pilot project, and provide lessons learned in implementing the USDA Guidelines for Eliminating Child and Forced Labor in Agricultural Supply Chains.

The pilot, made possible through the support of the U.S. Department of Labor International Labor Affairs Bureau (UDOL-ILAB), Nestlé, and two of its suppliers, Olam and Balsu, is aimed at testing the implementation of USDA guidelines that outline best practices for eliminating child and forced labor in agricultural supply chains. The event will feature:

  • An overview of lessons learned related to child labor and ethical supply chain recruitment
  • Keynote addresses from Nestlé, the Fair Labor Association, National Consumers League, and Balsu
  • A premiere screening of the pilot program documentary film shot during the 2017 hazelnut harvest season in Turkey

A light breakfast will be provided.


For more information

We hope that you will join us! To register, please send an email to

The world gathers to fight child labor at the 4th Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour – National Consumers League

The world is making significant progress in removing the scourge of child labor—there are 94 million fewer child laborers today than there were 16 years ago. I believe one of the reasons for this progress is the coming together of governments, worker groups, and human rights and child rights groups every four years for an international conference for focused strategy sessions on reducing child labor. I realize that there might be some skepticism that a conference could make much difference, but hear me out.

This year’s conference, organized by the government of Argentina and the International Labour Organization (ILO), took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 14-16 and brought together over 150 countries and nearly 3,000 individuals who are in some way involved in the fight against child labor. I was there representing the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which is co-chaired by the National Consumers League (NCL) and the American Federation of Teachers, and has been fighting to reduce child labor for nearly three decades.

We heard many great panels. Several were about trying to confront work in agriculture—the most ubiquitous form of child labor (comprising 70 percent of the problem.) Others confronted hazardous work, which involves 73 million children—almost half of the child labor population which is currently 152 million. The CLC’s chair of our Domestic Issues Committee, Norma Flores Lopez, the, spoke movingly about her own experiences working in U.S. fields as a child farmworker. Norma stated her belief that racial discrimination plays a part in persistence of child labor. Most children impacted by child labor are children of color, she noted. Authorities, she suggested, feel less pressure to remedy the exploitation of racial and ethnic minorities. Conference participants seemed stunned to learn that the U.S. has a child labor problem—our lax child labor laws allow children to work in agriculture beginning at age 12 and kids are allowed to work unlimited hours as long as they do not miss school. Some children work 80-90 hour weeks, performing back-breaking labor in stifling heat. 

Jo Becker, a child rights specialist for Human Rights Watch and an active member of the CLC, spoke about hazardous work and the dangers children are routinely subjected to in the fields and other dangerous locations. Becker has been a leader in campaigns to remove children from combat, from mines, and from tobacco farms in recent years. She noted that Brazil lists child tobacco work as hazardous but the U.S. does not—something that the U.S. government needs to fix. In 2014, Human Rights Watch published a ground-breaking report, “Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in US Tobacco Farming,” based on interviews with children working on American tobacco farms found that more than half had suffered symptoms that correlated with nicotine poisoning.

Both Norma Flores Lopez and Sue Longley of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association spoke about sexual harassment that girls and young women experience in agriculture.

Tim Ryan, representing the Solidarity Center, the Global March Against Child Labor and the CLC, spoke about the importance of freedom of association and collective bargaining. Workplaces where unions exist, he suggested, typically have no child labor. Collective bargaining also empowers workers and increases wages. If parents can earn a living wage, there is much less need to bring children into the workforce, Ryan suggested.

We learned about progress in helping children that is being made around the world. Officials from Pakistan told us that child labor in brick kilns has been reduced by 83 percent. A Ghanaian official told us that 95 percent of children in his country are now in school, although there is still a great deal of child labor.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, a close friend of the CLC, noted that child and indentured labor in Asian carpets has been reduced from one million to 250,000. Satyarthi spoke about the importance of educating the world’s out-of-school youth, noting that $22 billion would be sufficient to get all children into school. Without access to education, the elimination of child labor cannot happen, suggested Satyarthi.

There were many valuable insights at the conference, but I believe that the conference’s importance has a lot to do with bringing governments to the same place where inevitably the governments feel pressure to report progress. The countries—more than 150 of them—know that they will meet again in four years and will need to account for their lack of progress in reducing child labor.

The conference’s plenary session on its last day featured nearly 100 pledges from over 90 countries, worker rights groups, and nonprofits. In these pledges, participants identified strategies that they think will reduce child labor over the next four years as we move to the 2025 deadline set under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8.7, which calls for the complete elimination of child labor. I had the privilege of making a pledge for the CLC. We pledged to work with Congress and the U.S. government to close the loopholes in child labor law that allow children to work at 12 in agriculture and to work to reduce hazardous work in US agriculture that is harming the health of thousands of children every year.

Kailash Satyarthi confided in participants that he hoped there would be no need for another global child labor conference—that we might end the scourge of child labor in the next four years. That is his dream—one we all share.


Americans support unions – National Consumers League

Sally2017_92px.jpgOne of the great stories of 2017 is that despite what the business community would have us believe, 61 percent of adults in the U.S. say they approve of labor unions. This is the highest approval rating since the 65 percent approval recorded in 2003. And currently, the labor union approval is up five percentage points from last year, according to polling by Gallup.

Historically, unions have enjoyed strong support from the American public. In 1936, 72 percent of Americans approved of labor unions. Union approval peaked in the 1950’s when it reached 75 percent in 1953 and 1957.

It’s impressive that despite consistent efforts to undermine the union movement by ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce, the same poll showed that Republicans’ approval of unions rose since last year, possibly due to the presidency of Republican Donald Trump.

Even among young Republicans, 55 percent of those younger than 30 looked favorably on unions, compared to 32 percent of those 50 and older. Meanwhile, 49 percent Republicans without a college degree favored unions, compared to 28 percent of college-educated Republicans.

The same poll showed that 39 percent of Americans would like unions to have more influence–the highest figure recorded in the 18 years Gallup has surveyed this question.

For the past 80 years, unions have been an integral part of the American labor force. Since 1936, shortly after Congress legalized private sector unions and collective bargaining, U.S. adults have approved, sometimes overwhelmingly, of labor unions. Ten percent of Americans report personally being a union member, while 16 percent live in a union household, according to the poll.

The United Steelworkers, which represent 850,000 U.S. workers, issued this statement:

“It is gratifying to see that the popularity of unions has risen 13 points since 2009, particularly when wealthy, right-wing groups like ALEC and the State Policy Network are working every day to crush unions. The USW, the AFL-CIO and all of its member unions will continue working to end income inequality and improve the lives of all workers by ensuring they receive a fair share of the bounty created by their labor.”

When given the choice free from employer intimidation and anti-union messaging, unions win the day with workers, and why wouldn’t they? They give workers a say in things like decent raises, affordable healthcare, safer workplaces, job security, and a stable schedule.

Industries leaders big and small would benefit from having someone to talk to across the table. We can only hope that these promising new poll numbers will lead the way to greater worker access to unions and fairer distribution of wages and benefits.  

For the love of chocolate…On World Chocolate Day, we look at the human cost behind chocolate – National Consumers League

chocolateday.pnghere’s no doubt that humans love chocolate. Globally, we consume $80 to $100 billion worth of it a year. Despite its popularity and the joy it gives us, there is a dark side to chocolate: cocoa, its main ingredient, is often produced by child labor. The US Department of Labor (USDOL) identifies this as the case in six countries: Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

In two of those countries, the Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria, USDOL notes there is forced labor on cocoa plantations. There is also evidence that thousands of children have been trafficked to work on cocoa plantations from neighboring countries Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo.

Exploitation in chocolate’s supply chain became hotly discussed in 2000 and 2001 when media reports about wide-spread child labor in the West Africa nations of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, where the majority of cocoa was being produced, were published.

Congressional leaders were alarmed about the reports. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced legislation that would require child-labor free chocolate to be recognized with a label. The measure passed the US House of Representatives but it didn’t take long for everyone to realize that wanting child-labor free cocoa and delivering on that promise were two very different things. The nature of cocoa farming made it a very difficult crop to remove child labor from cocoa production. The region features hundreds of thousands of small cocoa farms operating in jungle-like topography. The region is lacking much infrastructure, including thousands of schools that would be needed to educate all the children working in cocoa.

In Congress, the chocolate companies hired two former majority leaders to lobby against the labelling requirement. A different course was needed. Rep. Engel and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) worked to establish an innovative multi-stakeholder initiative to begin efforts to reduce child labor.

The so-called “Harkin-Engel Protocol” launched in September 2001 brought together eight of the largest chocolate companies, the government of the Côte d’Ivoire, the International Labour Organization’s International Programme to Eliminate Child Labour, the International Cocoa Organization, Free the Slaves, The Child Labor Coalition and the National Consumers League. Other signatories included Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), Harkin, and Engel. The agreement committed industry to work with NGOs and the West African governments to remedy abusive forms of child labor.

Unfortunately, despite the passage of nearly 16 years, child labor persists in West Africa’s cocoa plantations. A survey conducted by Tulane University researchers commissioned by the US Department of Labor released in 2015 found that although more children were going to school—a very good thing—there had been a 48 percent increase in the number of children in child labor in the Côte d’Ivoire from four years prior and only a little progress in reducing child labor had taken place in Ghana.

When you looked at both countries together, more than two million children were performing hazardous work in cocoa, including cutting down trees, burning fields, applying toxic chemicals, carrying heavy loads, and using machetes. Tulane found that the number of children exposed to hazardous chemicals had increased by 44 percent from four years earlier.

Researchers also noted that older children and young adults had been migrating away from cocoa-growing areas, leaving behind a very young and very old workforce.

Any way you slice your chocolate bar, much work remains to be done. While in Ghana researchers found that 96 percent of children attended school, in Côte d’Ivoire three in every 10 children in cocoa producing areas did not attend school.

The Framework for Action of the Harkin-Engel Protocol requires that 1.5 million children be removed from hazardous cocoa work by 2020. Unfortunately, sharply falling cocoa prices this year have not helped farmers earn sustainable livings in West Africa—one of the keys to reducing child labor.

The 2015 Tulane report suggests that new approaches to reducing child labor in the cocoa sector are needed and the current approaches are not working well enough. During the coming year, the Child Labor Coalition hopes to explore new ideas with the chocolate industry that may help alleviate this crisis.

In the meantime, consumers can express their concern about the situation to their favorite chocolate companies and try to identify the companies that go to lengths to work directly with farmers or cooperatives to improve farmers’ incomes. Divine Chocolate is one such company—farmers own the biggest share of the company. Divine is small but growing, and its innovative structure could be replicated by other companies.

We envision a day when consumers will have readily available child-labor-free chocolate to consume, so that they might enjoy delicious treats free from very negative human costs—child labor, child slavery, and child trafficking—associated with it. It’s certainly a goal worth working toward.