The Bitter Truth: Chocolate Industry Slaves

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BOSTON — Chocolate is an $80 billion global industry, and international corporations such as Nestle, Hershey and Mars have made their fortune off of the global demand for this confectionery. However, very little of the profits are seen by the actual cocoa farmers, most of whom are located in West Africa.

The average cocoa farm owner makes four to six percent of the price of an average chocolate bar. In Cote d’Ivoire local farmers claim that the companies to which they sell cocoa do not pay them enough to be able to support themselves as well as hire the amount of labor they need to keep up with the global demand for chocolate. A large percentage of cocoa farm laborers are unpaid workers under the age of 18. The work involves climbing up cocoa trees to cut down bean pods, and when on the ground again cutting open the pods to reach the beans. They use a machete and on-the-job accidents are common. Most of the children have never tasted chocolate.

While some children start working on the cocoa farms out of a need to help support their families, the majority of child workers are victims of human trafficking. Most of the children are ages 12-16 but some are as young as seven, and the length of their stay on the farm varies from a couple months to many years. For compensation, whoever brings the child to the farm, be it family member or human trafficker, is paid a lump sum, and the child receives food and a place to sleep. The food is inexpensive and the living quarters have poor sanitation and no access to clean water. Additionally, forcing the children to work and keeping them out of school is a direct violation of the International Labor Organization.

Unfortunately, chocolate industry slaves are all too easy to find, and the majority of chocolate sold around the world can be traced back to slavery. In 2001 U.S. Senator Harkin and Representative Engel spearheaded a movement to eliminate child labor in the cocoa industry, known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol. Industry representatives from all around the world signed the protocol, but even after more than a decade little progress has been made. A study done by researchers at Tulane University found that in the Ivory Coast 97 percent of cocoa farmers had not been reached out to by the International Cocoa Initiative, the Ivorian government or chocolate companies regarding slavery and human trafficking.

In Australia and the U.K., Cadbury, one of the world’s largest chocolate companies, has committed itself to selling fair trade certified products, but Cadbury chocolate in the U.S. is a different story. In America, Cadbury chocolate is made by Hershey, so a British Cadbury chocolate bar does not even taste the same as an American Cadbury chocolate bar. In order for American Cadbury products to be fair trade, Hershey would have to become fair trade or the two companies would have to end their licensing agreement that allows Hershey to produce Cadbury chocolate.

Awareness is key in brining about the end to slavery and human trafficking. Many Westerners live by the notion that because slavery has been abolished and is illegal in every country in the world that it does not exist. In reality there are over 29 million peoples, mostly women and children, living as slaves. Why people buy products that were, to at least some degree, made by slaves, mainly boils down to ignorance. Locating fair trade products can be hard, but thanks to 21st century technology, such as an app called the Fair Trade Finder, it is easier for consumers to locate the more than 10,000 Fair Trade Certified markets in the United States.

Taylor Lovett

Sources: CNN, BBC News, Responsible Cocoa, Food Empowerment Project, Fair Trade USA
Feature Image: The Bear Facts

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