First discovered and domesticated by the Olmecs of Southern Mexcio, cacao beans have evolved over the centuries through different cultures, to become the beloved bar of chocolate as we know it today. It played an important role in the development of trade amongst the Mayan and Aztec cultures, held a coveted position amongst the Spanish royals and went on to become inextricably intertwined with the growth of African slavery in the 18th and 19th century.
During the Industrial Revolution, scientists across Europe began experimenting with cacao beans and its by-products. In 1828, Dutch chemist Van Houten was amongst the first to successfully discover a way to separate cocoa butter from cocoa solids using a cocoa press. Similar discoveries in parts of England led to initial attempts of molding melted cocoa butter with cocoa solids and sugar into bars which would come to be known simply as chocolate. These developments made the production of chocolate affordable, thus increasing the demand for cocoa.
Although mass production of chocolate first began in Europe, it gained traction quickly in the United States of America. Milton Hershey, known as the pioneer of large scale chocolate production in America, continues to rank as one of the biggest chocolate makers in the global market to date. Other big names in the global arena include Mars Inc. (M&M, Snicker, Twix), Mondelez International (Cadbury, Milka) from America and Switzerland’s Nestle and Barry Calebut.
Slavery and chocolate production continue to be linked even to this very day. Approximately two-thirds of the world’s cocoa comes from the poverty-stricken areas of Western Africa. While there as some success stories like that of Ghana, most African plantations continue to use children and slaves from poorer neighboring countries like Burkina Faso and Mali. According to the International Labor Right Forum, as many as 1 million children work in African cocoa fields today. Draughts, improper methods of irrigation and cultivation, and the rising demand for chocolate in emerging countries like China and India, continue to push and indirectly foster child labour. It is estimated, that by 2020 there will be 1 million-metric-ton gap between the supply and demand of chocolate and chocolate products.