Did you know that there are currently 10 to 30 million slaves in the world today? That’s more than there were during the transatlantic slave trade!

There are sex slaves in Cambodia, labor slaves in India, plantation slaves in Africa, and even domestic slaves in upscale American suburbia (like a 10-year-old girl smuggled from Egypt to work as a domestic slave for a well-to-do Orange County couple). Bottom line: Slavery is all around us—it’s just harder to see.

But here’s the worst part: We are supporting slavery with our sweet-tooth.

The Bitter Facts

Americans spend approximately 13 billion dollars on chocolate each year, and over one third of all chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast in Africa. Now here’s the shocker: Over one million children work on Ivory Coast cocoa plantations. Of these, an estimated 12,000 to 200,000 children are enslaved, forced to pick cocoa for our chocolate bars.

They work in deplorable conditions. They labor 80 to 100 hours a week and are given little food, no pay, and no access to medical care. On top of being forced to work, they are regularly beaten. “The beatings were a part of my life,” Aly Diabate, a freed slave, told reporters. “Anytime they loaded you with bags (of cocoa beans) and you fell while carrying them, nobody helped you. Instead they beat you and beat you until you picked it up again.” One former child plantation slave showed a BBC reporter the scars from his beatings and the reporter shared, “There wasn’t an inch of his body which wasn’t scarred.”

These children are typically 12 to 14 years old. However, some, like Abdul, began as young as seven (Watch his story here).

Some kids are kidnapped from neighboring countries (Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo). Others are sold out of desperation by their poverty-stricken parents. Some parents send their children with the traffickers in genuine belief that their child will find a good job send some money home. However most parents never see any of the promised earnings—or their children—again.

The Chocolate on Our Shelves

The truth is our local grocery stores are teeming with slavery-tainted chocolate. Hershey’s, Cadbury Ltd., Godiva, Kraft, and Nestle all use cocoa from the Ivory Coast, which is almost certainly made with child labor.

For example, in 2012, Hershey’s said they would try to be slave-free by 2020. Eight years is a ridiculous and inexcusable time frame! Are we supposed to be okay with child labor and child slavery in the meantime? I think not.

Perhaps Hershey’s doesn’t care to speed things along because consumers continue to buy their inexpensive, slavery-tainted chocolate. It’s time to stop supporting companies that violate human rights. We need to be responsible consumers.

We need to hit these companies where it hurts: their pocketbooks. How?

1) Learn More

The more you know, the more your passion will grow. Watch the 2010 documentary, The Dark Side of Chocolate which exposes child labor in the supply chains of major chocolate companies. It’s a harrowing, yet remarkable, film that takes you behind the scenes with hidden cameras. You’ll watch children being bought and subsequently trafficked across the borders to cocoa plantations. You’ll even see cocoa harvesters trying chocolate for the first time (most cocoa plantation workers have never seen or tasted a chocolate bar!).