Mars Class Action Over Alleged Child Labor in Cocoa Production

Mars Incorporated, a prominent candy industry player, faces legal scrutiny over allegations of child labor in its supply chain. A CBS News report has brought to light the potential involvement of children as young as five in the cocoa harvesting process in Ghana, which is integral to the production of Mars’s chocolate products.

This has led to a class action lawsuit, aiming to hold the corporation accountable for its supply chain practices, and raises serious questions about the ethical sourcing of ingredients in the confectionery industry.

The class action lawsuit against Mars brings into focus the broader issue of child labor in cocoa production, which has been a longstanding concern for human rights advocates. The legal action seeks to address companies’ corporate responsibility to ensure that their operations do not contribute to or condone human rights abuses.

As Mars faces these allegations, the outcome of the legal proceedings could set a precedent for how global companies address labor practices in their supply chains and could influence future actions by corporations and policymakers.


  • Mars is contending with a class action over allegations of child labor in its cocoa supply chain.
  • The lawsuit underscores the challenge of eradicating child labor in cocoa production and demands corporate accountability.
  • This legal case could influence corporate practices and policies regarding ethical labor standards.

Child Labor in Cocoa Production

Child labor in cocoa production is an enduring issue that tarnishes supply chains, particularly within West Africa, which is the heartland of global cocoa cultivation.

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Historical Overview and Current Challenges

Cocoa production has historically been tied to the exploitation of child labor, particularly in West Africa, where countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana dominate the industry.

As the demand for chocolate has increased globally, so has the pressure on these regions to sustain high levels of cocoa output.

This pressure often leads to the employment of children in cocoa plantations, with some reports indicating that children as young as five are working in these environments.

Main Issues:

  • Insufficient Monitoring: Despite efforts to combat child labor in cocoa supply chains, monitoring mechanisms often fall short.
  • Pesticide Exposure: Children working on cocoa farms may be exposed to hazardous pesticides, raising significant health concerns.

Regional Focus: Ivory Coast and Ghana

These two nations are the epicenter of cocoa production in West Africa, contributing to over 60% of the world’s cocoa supply. It is estimated that millions of children work in cocoa plantations across Ivory Coast and Ghana, often under conditions that can be classified as forced child labor.

The complexity of supply chains makes transparency and accountability difficult, perpetuating the cycle of child labor in these regions.

Challenges in Ivory Coast and Ghana:

  • Scale of Cocoa Farms: Thousands of small-scale farms, often remote, complicate oversight.
  • Commitments to Change: While commitments have been made to eradicate child labor, including by major companies like Mars by 2025, progress has been slow and inconsistent.

The Legal Landscape

Child labor remains a significant issue within global supply chains. Legal frameworks and actions, both national and international, are evolving to address this problem, with high-profile companies and cases often at the center of these developments.

International Rights and Protections

International rights advocates have established firm legal foundations to combat child labor. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that children must be protected from economic exploitation.

    Specific Cases: Mars and Others

    Several class action lawsuits have targeted major corporations like Nestle, Hershey, Cargill, and Mars Inc. for their alleged connections to child labor in their supply chains. A case spotlight falls on Doe v. Nestle, et al., where plaintiffs claim that these companies knowingly benefited from the illegal use of child labor in cocoa farms in West Africa.

    Developments in Child Labor Class Actions

    Pending litigation in this field reflects an increase in legal accountability. Courtrooms are witnessing more class action lawsuits aimed at companies accused of facilitating or ignoring child labor in their supply chains.

    These class action lawsuits are not only calling for compensation but also seek to enforce systemic changes within the supply chains to prevent further exploitation.

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    Corporate Accountability and Responses

    In addressing the class action concerning child labor, chocolate companies face increased pressure to demonstrate responsible business practices and ensure adherence to ethical standards in their supply chains.

    Company Policies and Commitments

    Major chocolate corporations have publicly expressed their commitment to combat forced labor and the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa industry. Policies put forth often include:

    • Hershey Co declares it is scaling efforts to trace and audit their supply chains.
    • Venture policies indicate actions to root out child labor, with some companies implementing child labor monitoring and remediation systems.

    Research by NGOs and oversight bodies has led to:

    • Improvement of standards in supply chain management.
    • Partnerships with local farmers to enhance labor conditions and eradicate slavery.

    A pivotal role is played by the World Cocoa Foundation, promoting industry alignment on anti-child labor initiatives.

    Consumer Expectations and Actions

    Consumers can exert influence over corporate behavior through:

    1. Advocacy
      • Campaign for products free from child labor.
      • Pressure groups led by figures like Terry Collingsworth striving for accountable supply chains.
    2. Purchasing Power
      • Preferring ethically sourced cocoa beans.
      • Demanding transparency on product labels.

    Consumer actions contribute to shifting corporate strategies to focus on due diligence, propelling them toward a more ethical cocoa industry.

    The actions and policies implemented are part of a broader effort to reconcile consumer expectations with corporate economic interests.

    Societal Implications

    Child labor, particularly in areas like Mali, has a profound effect on local communities. Trafficked children and child slaves are deprived of education and a normal childhood, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

    These children often work under negligent supervision in the production of goods, such as harvesting cocoa, a raw material essential to chocolate makers.

    The pay they receive is minimal, often qualifying as slave labor, and this system of forced labor directly impacts the families and social fabric of their localities.

    Consumer Awareness and Advocacy

    Organizations and individuals are pushing for greater transparency in labor practices and advocating against unjust enrichment of companies at the cost of human rights.

    Customers worldwide are becoming more informed through news and newsletters about the use of forced labour in supply chains and are demanding socially responsible products.

    The environment is also a significant factor, as unsustainable labor practices can harm ecosystems, which prompts environmentalists to join the fight against child labor.

    There is a drive to hold companies accountable for their role in perpetuating such labor practices, pushing for a shift towards ethical and social responsibility.