[This post is part of the SUMMER JUSTICE SERIES. You can start with Part 1 here.]
Part 3: Slave-Free Chocolate
How many of us really think about child slavery when we grab a candy bar? Most of us just don’t; that doesn’t make us bad people. What is slave chocolate? I set out to learn if any of my snack money could possibly be going to companies that are operating a business on the backs of children falling victims to human trafficking.
To be honest, I didn’t know very much about the exploitation of people to produce one of our favorite treats, but I’ve been eager to learn more for some time. This issue is one of the main reasons I chose to focus on what is often called social justice for these few short weeks.
In case you’re not sure how this works, chocolate comes from cocoa beans. Most of the world’s chocolate originates from the Cote d’Ivoire or Ivory Coast in Africa. Chocolate became all the rage in Europe by the 1600s after the Spaniards discovered it as a favored treat of Aztec royalty. Moctezuma was a huge fan, a total chocoholic by modern standards.
Although centuries have passed, reports indicate that our basest cruelty instincts persist. Let’s establish two straight-forward aspects here. First, what kind of abuse is reportedly taking place in pursuit of “brown gold” as it’s called around the globe? Secondly, are we supporting companies that offer products tainted by these terrible practices?
“The Bitter Truth”
The involvement of slave labor in chocolate production became a major issue about a decade ago. Since then, international community leaders including the U.S. Congress have been setting threatening deadlines warning the global chocolate industry to avoid all involvement with child slavery.
Nothing pierces the heart like some of the first-hand accounts of young people who have escaped or been rescued from these farms. A recent entry on Tropic Post details a small bit of the experiences of these children, usually boys but sometimes girls between ages 11-16.
“The children work under inhumane conditions and extreme abuse, working with sharp machetes and poisonous sprays, from 6 in the morning, till 6 at night…One ex-child slave said 18 children were locked into a 24 X 20 foot room, sleeping on a wooden plank. A small hole was just big enough to let in some air, but they were forced to urinate in a can.”
The article goes onto say the kids were too afraid to attempt escape after others were caught and brutally beaten for attempting to do so.
At this point, slave chocolate gets a lot more attention in other parts of the world than here in the states. BBC News produced this short video on child cocoa workers in 2007. More recently, Paul Kenyon went undercover for a BBC Panorama investigation called Chocolate: The Bitter Truth. He discovered plenty of injustices still occuring in West Africa.
Despite these tragic reports, progress continues to be made in efforts to halt the worst of child slave labor practices.
It’s All About Awareness
Congress led the way to end these dastardly practices. The Harkin-Engel Protocol of 2001 set up rules to end child labor violations with checkup points in 2005 and 2008.
Major companies acknowledge the sad reality of cocoa bean production in certain parts of the world. Corporations such as Nestle have faced intense, long-term criticism (that will happen when you haul in $76 billion a year), but they’ve also invested millions into humanitarian causes. Mars and Hershey are also well-known producers of our favorite confections. They claim no direct participation in farms utilizing slave labor.
I believe them. Industry leaders have no reason to remain involved in such practices. For some reason, I doubt all the most evil humans in corporate America are conspiring together like mad Willy Wonkas hell-bent on enslaving the youth of West Africa. Progress in this area has led to more legitimate avenues for production. No one really understood the extent of these abuses until the late 90s. At this point, most of the world would be against any organization anywhere near an endorsement of child slave trafficking.
That said, all of these laws are hard to police. Many cocoa farms are in remote areas. When they are discovered, authorities can deal with those in charge, but the farmers often make changes just long enough to get pressure off their backs. Sadly, they can always find more young people to exploit. In some cases the parents are complicit.
What can we do? Like any other issue, the first step is to get and then stay informed. Author Julie Clawson points out the practical step of telling chocolate companies that we care where our goodies come from. Demanding slave-free goods always makes sense. In the meantime, feel free to let your representatives know this legislation matters. Finally, find organizations dedicated to monitoring cocoa farming practices. Start with the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), whose short intro video follows.
Read PART 4: Are Sweatshops A Necessary Evil?