A Slave To Chocolate

cocoa beans From Valentine’s Day well past Easter, most of us cannot avoid the scent and resist the taste of chocolate.  It’s prominently displayed in stores; we buy it and/or receive it as a gift; once the box is open, the candies just seem to pop out of their designated squares and into our mouths. Then the guilt sets in.  For some people, guilt relates to cholesterol or weight worries.  Others have pangs of social conscience because they’ve heard that consumers of chocolate are actually supporting slavery.


If you haven’t heard that, you probably will soon.  It’s not new news, but, unfortunately, it’s an ongoing tragedy that the media generally cover at the time of year when everybody is buying chocolate. Needless to say, it’s ironic that a product associated with love and pleasure causes misery to many.  However, if you want to greatly decrease the risk that you are subsidizing slavery, there is a solution. No, we’re not going to tell you to forsake chocolate altogether but merely to consider buying Fair Trade chocolate.  Why and how will be explained later.  First comes the story of the connection between chocolate and forced labor. 


The plight of enslaved children working in cocoa production has continued long after this evil was exposed. It involves roughly 12,000 children (mostly boys ages 12-16).  Where?  In sub-Saharan Africa, about 30% of children under the age of 15 are child laborers.  Most of them work in agricultural activities, including cocoa farming.  West Africa supplies about 80% of the world’s cocoa; about half of the world’s cocoa comes from the Ivory Coast alone.  Major chocolate producers (Nestlé and perhaps others) buy their cocoa from commodities exchanges, where cocoa from the Ivory Coast is mixed with other cocoa.  The result is that about 1 out of every 20 pieces (about 5%) of   the chocolate you consume was probably handled by abused,  overworked, trapped young teenagers. 


How did these children wind up in such a dire situation?  Many of them are from neighboring countries and are lured or trafficked to the Ivory Coast.  Some were enticed by promises of easy working conditions and good pay. Some were sold into slavery to provide the “manpower” for cocoa farming.  A 1998 report from the Ivory Coast  office of UNICEF concluded that Ivory Coast farmers used enslaved children, many of them from Mali, Burkina, Faso, and Togo.


In 2001, Senator Thomas Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced legislation that would have require chocolate sold in the U.S. to be labeled “slave-free.”  The bill didn’t pass, but it scared the big chocolate producers into signing an agreement stating that by July 2005 their chocolate would be certified as not being produced by any underage, indentured, trafficked, or coerced labor.  But the deadline passed with little having been accomplished.  Although reports and books have been written about this situation, in 2008, Fortune magazine reported,“…little progress has been made.”  According to reports from some victims, they worked 100 hours a week and were beaten if they didn’t work fast enough or if they tried to escape. Even today, kids are enslaved for the sake of our Valentine’s Day and Easter treats.


What can you do to help these kids?  Try Fair Trade chocolate. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “fair trade,” here’s the explanation from Stop Chocolate Slavery.   “In the Fair Trade system, purchasers of products like coffee and cocoa beans, bananas, and sugar typically agree to pay an above market price for the products.  The extra money is intended to help the small farms and co-operatives selling the products to make lasting improvements in their communities” by donating some profits towards schools, hospitals, and improvements in infrastructure. The purchasers, who are typically companies intending to import and then sell products in other   countries, can then labels their products “Fair Trade Certified.”  The Fair Trade certification is also used to indicate that products are slave-free and workers are treated fairly.  In fact, that is not always the case, but it’s more likely than for products without the Fair Trade label. 


What about organic chocolate?  It’s assumed to be slavery-free.  Here’s why:


1) Organic farms have their own monitoring systems, and they check labor practices.


2) Cocoa beans are not grown organically in the Ivory Coast, where most of the reports about chocolate slavery come from.


According to the website Stop Chocolate Slavery, the markets for Fair Trade products are small but growing rapidly.  On this site, you’ll find a four-page list of chocolate sources that should be slavery-free.  The table lists the brand names, specific products, whether they are organic or not, whether they’re Fair Trade or not, the country of origin, and the stores that sell the product.  Fair Trade chocolate will cost you a little more,  but it’s bound  give more pleasure when there’s no guilt  to leave a bitter aftertaste.




Stopchocolateslavery “Slave-Free Chocolate”



kamikazecookery.com “Your Chocolate Is Made My Enslaved Kids”



organicconsumers.org “Slave Chocolate?”



TED Case Studies “Chocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in Cote d’Ivoire”



wikipedia.org “Children in cocoa production”




Stopchocolateslavery “Slave-Free Chocolate”



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