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M&M’S: Dark Chocolate, Darker Truth

“M&M’S has long been committed to creating colorful fun for all” advertises Mars Wrigley. However, the beloved chocolate candy manufacturer neglects to mention the countless children who produce 24% of its cocoa supply under slave-like conditions.

In February of 2021, Mars, alongside several other chocolate companies, faced legal action pursued by the International Rights Advocates (IRA), representing eight Malian adults subjected to child slavery on Ivory Coast cocoa plantations. Acknowledging the West African country's contribution to roughly 45% of global cocoa production, the IRA raises concerns regarding the predominant reliance on child exploitation to fulfill the intensive requirements of cocoa bean cultivation.

Child Labor on Ivory Coast Cocoa Plantation

However, the class action lawsuit was dismissed, lacking a “traceable connection” between the plantations and trialed companies. According to their lawyer, Terry Collingsworth, the former child slaves intend to appeal the dismissal to “force the companies to keep their... promises and end this abhorrent system they have created”. Referring to Mars's pledge to eradicate child labor use by 2005, these aforementioned “promises” remain unfulfilled through the deadline postponement to 2025.

Meanwhile, M&M’S has prioritized brand reconceptualization, redesigning the candy’s iconic mascots “to underscore the importance of self-expression” (Mars, Inc.). Most notably, the green-colored candy received gender-neutral sneakers, stripping the femininity associated with the character’s original boots. Moreover, the addition of a purple-colored spokescandy, serving as the first new character in over a decade, reinforces the company’s focus on modern identity politics. Specifically, a press release includes that this new rendition of the peanut M&M was “designed to represent acceptance and inclusivity” (Mars, Inc.). However, the validity of such claims may serve as contentious when considering the potential marketing success associated with such procedures. To elaborate, complying with mainstream social standards may bear significant financial benefits and public validation, two important factors in a competitive economic landscape. Not to mention, promoting body positivity may ease former dietary concerns associated with the consumption of M&M’S, further encouraging the product’s purchase. Thus, the socioeconomic benefits associated with implementing progressive marketing may explain the lack of action taken toward eliminating child labor use. In other words, Mars may neglect former promises regarding labor practices in the prioritization of marketing success.

Mars, Inc.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that Mars may also rely on such action to mask their involvement in unfavorable labor practices. To elaborate, representing legal contention before that aforementioned, Mars faced a lawsuit by Californian Robert Hodson on the account of failing to disclose the “potentiality of child slave labor” in their packaging. However, despite claiming his ill will to conduct business if aware of these circumstances, Hodson’s case was dismissed because such practices did not impact the product’s “safety risks and defects”. Not to mention, the company’s official website does not explicitly disclose the potentiality of child labor either. Thus, Mars boasts of their mainstream progressive endeavors while covertly engaging in child labor with seemingly little inclination to reduce its practice.

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