I have an insatiable sweet tooth, and before I went vegan, I used to love KitKats, especially all of the different flavors like the matcha or strawberry ones. Since going vegan, I’ve been able to find vegan peanut butter cups, faux-Snickers, or faux-Milky Ways. Still, I’ve never been able to find a vegan dupe for KitKats. So you can imagine how excited I was when I saw Nestle announce a vegan KitKat to be released later this year!
The new confectionary bar will be called KitKat V. Nestle plans to release it across several countries this year to test the treat before rolling it out worldwide. The original KitKat isn’t vegan due to milk contents, so Nestle is using rice milk for its light flavor profile in hopes of keeping the beloved chocolate as true to the original as possible. On the Nestle press announcement for KitKat V, the brand specifies, “KitKat V is certified vegan, and made from 100% sustainable cocoa sourced through the Nestlé Cocoa Plan in conjunction with the Rainforest Alliance.”
I was intrigued about the 100% sustainable cocoa claim and was incredibly disappointed when I looked into it. It turns out that just a few days before the announcement of KitKat V, Nestle was in mainstream news alongside Mars, Hershey’s, and a few other large chocolate brands for allegations of child slavery within their supply chains. Eight young men have come forward and are claiming that they were trafficked from Mali and brought to cocoa farms in Ivory Coast when they were children.
There they, among “thousands of other children,” were forced to work in dangerous conditions with no pay, no way of leaving, or knowledge of when they would see their families again. With Ivory Coast supplying 45% of the world’s cocoa, many of these big companies used the farms the children were enslaved in as their cocoa suppliers. The legal team representing the young men are accusing the brands of “knowingly profiting” off of children bound in slavery. The children were forced to work with dangerous chemicals without appropriate protective attire, and used machetes which often resulted in horrific accidents and other hazardous tasks.
While many of the other chocolatier brands refused to comment, Nestle did comment, saying that the lawsuit brought forth by the exploited young men “does not advance the shared goal of ending child labor in the cocoa industry.” Nestle does have a policy against child labor, and the Nestle Cocoa Plan does report on the progress against child labor every year. And although the young men coming forward today worked at the farms roughly a decade ago (the allegations are for the years 2009 through 2011), I find it hard to believe that Nestle was not aware of what was going on in their own supply chain.
The Nestle Cocoa Plan was launched in 2009 with a research and development center opened in Ivory Coast. If Nestle closed their eyes to something that was happening right under their noses, it makes me doubt how committed they are to eradicating child labor from their supply chains. I don’t doubt that there have been some improvements, but is it enough? The entire announcement of KitKat V so soon after this case entering mainstream media makes it appear as greenwashing.
Companies must understand that “sustainability” isn’t only about animal rights. And neither is the vegan movement. Companies must take responsibility for their actions and help keep our planet safe, the people safe, and the animals. The three together are what makes our Earth so miraculous, a haven amidst a vast galaxy. If these chocolate companies want to do better and continue moving forward with the rest of society, they must pay reparations for the damage they’ve done previously, even if their claims of being unaware are true. Even if the fault lies in the traffickers and farmers, it is because the cost of growing cocoa was unsustainable with what these companies were willing to pay. It is time to pay for the damage done to thousands of children stolen from their families and forced to work in hazardous conditions. This is imperative if any of the companies wish to move forward with the new values being taken on by society. After hearing about the damage Nestle has been a part of, will you try the KitKat V?
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Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash