As Easter time comes upon us our thoughts turn to chocolate Easter eggs. We all enjoy giving and receiving chocolates at this time and on other holidays like Christmas. The sad irony is that much of the chocolate that we give away or eat was produced in part by young children forced to harvest cacao beans as slave labour. If the chocolate is not Fair Trade certified it means that child labour was most likely to have been involved in its production. Child labour, forced labour, and child trafficking in the cocoa industry are rampant. In West Africa, especially in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, children are forced to harvest cocoa for long hours (12-15 hour days, with most children under the age of 12), kept out of school, and paid little or nothing at all for their work. They are abused, exploited and suffer lasting physical and psychological injuries. Cocoa farmers use child labour because it’s cheap, and it allows them to pass that savings onto distributors and buyers. Buyers look for cheap cocoa because major chocolate companies want to buy the cheapest cocoa available. And chocolate companies are buying bargain basement cocoa because consumers like us are looking for cheap chocolate.
These children are literally slaves kept in the harshest of conditions. They are beaten, locked in small huts, and fed little, often existing on a diet of bananas and the cocoa beans they sometimes steal. This would be bad enough if the numbers were small, maybe in the hundreds. But the truth is these children, these modern day slaves, number is the tens of thousands. Some groups estimate as many as 200,000.
According to ‘Stop The Traffik’ one person is trafficked across a border every minute. Where do these children come from? Some are kidnapped and sold. Others are sold into slavery by desperately poor parents. In the long run it doesn’t matter how they got there, they have almost no chance of ever seeing their parents again, and they will work 80 to 100 hour weeks. The packs that they carry are often bigger than they are and create raw,open wounds on their shoulders. Medical care, of course, is nearly non-existent.
But we can change things by the choices we make. Not buying chocolate from companies that buy from these farms will force them to rethink their policies as their profits drop. Think of how much money is spent on chocolates each year. In the USA it is estimated that people pay over 13 billion dollars a year on chocolates. In Australia it is estimated to be around 4 billion. Clearly where we spend our money can have a powerful impact of child slavery and human trafficking in the chocolate industry.
Large chocolate companies are acknowledging that there is a problem, but also state they can’t do much about it since they don’t own the plantations. Some companies are trying to put various trade agreements and sanctions in place to stop it. In 2001 the Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association put together the Harkin-Engle Protocol that calls for the development of industry wide labour standards and voluntary certification, reporting and individual monitoring. The Protocol also implements an industry funded foundation to create and oversee programs related to this issue. The deadline was July 2005 yet there has not been much improvement. Companies like Hershey’s and M&M both get their cocoa from Ivory Coast farms. But they are not alone. The list of companies involved reads like a who’s who among chocolate: Cadbury; Kraft; Nestle; Toblerone, etc. If these companies took initiative to change their policies others would follow.
Fair Trade cocoa helps end that cycle. If consumers buy more Fair Trade chocolate, companies will buy more Fair Trade cocoa. And in order to be the suppliers of that cocoa, farm owners will need to get Fair Trade certified. That means getting rid of children and slave labourers, hiring free adults (sometimes the parents of those children), and paying them a living wage. Families in the community would have more money, children would be in school and we end up eating slave-free chocolate.
Fair Trade chocolate is increasingly available at supermarkets and grocery stores around the country. Some popular brands of Fair Trade Chocolate include: Divine Chocolate; Equal Exchange; Green and Black’s; Theo Chocolate; Dunkin Donuts; Whole Foods; Starbucks; Safeway; Target and Sweet Earth Chocolates.
At present it is estimated that only about 1% of the chocolate sales world-wide are Fair Trade. Child and slave labour in the chocolate industry will continue as long as major chocolate companies are looking for cheap cocoa at any price. So when you go shopping this Easter for chocolates, ask yourself if it is worth buying chocolates that are tainted with the blood of children.