You’re in the line at CVS when the chocolate and candy protruding from the cashier’s counter catches your eye. It’s your cheat day — one chocolate bar won’t do any harm, right? What you don’t know is that the chocolate bar you crave took the sweat of millions of children, many of them slaves, to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, which is primarily found in Latin America and Western Africa. Most of it is harvested in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where 70% of the world’s cocoa is reaped.
These companies and many others like them are responding to the increasing demand for chocolate with a demand for cheap labor. Thus, they buy cocoa for cheap from their suppliers in the Ivory Coast. However, the reason the cocoa is cheap is because those mining it are children, who work on measly wages if they get any at all.
The children of Western Africa live in poverty and are desperate to help their families, this makes them vulnerable to child traffickers who tell them they will be paid well for their work. Some children are even sold by their own relatives to the cocoa industry.
The children work in dangerous conditions using chainsaws and climbing tall trees with machetes to cut cocoa bean pods.
The large knives and other dangerous equipment are used by all children in the cocoa industry, violating the worst child labor laws from the United Nations. After cutting the bean pods the children must carry bags that usually weight about 100 pounds through the forests.
Aly Diabate, a former cocoa slave said, “Some of the bags were taller than me. It took two people to put the bag on my head. And when you didn’t hurry, you were beaten.”
Many of the children are whipped or beaten for working slowly and at night many are locked in so they can’t escape. The children also must open the cocoa bean themselves by hitting the tip of the pod with a machete and prying it open. The majority of the children hurt themselves during this process and are left with scars on their hands, arms, shoulders, and legs.
Recently freed slave Drissa has never tasted chocolate despite harvesting it for years.When he was asked what he would tell people who eat slave-harvested chocolate he said this “When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are an estimated 2.12 million child laborers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. So, the main concern is what can we do to solve this problem, to help the children thousands of miles away?
Well, first we could demand that the chocolate companies take responsibility for their suppliers and end child labor and slavery within their supply chain. Despite, their promises to do so little has changed for the children in the Ivory Coast.
Hershey, the largest chocolate manufacturer, still refuses to address accusations of child labor and will not release any information about where the cocoa comes from.
In 2001, the U.S. House of Representatives considered a bill that would require every chocolate to be labeled “slave free” or not, to combat child slavery in the cocoa industry. However, the chocolate industry immediately responded sending intense and persuasive lobbyists to stop the bill.
The Chocolate Manufacturers Association even hired former Senate majority leaders, Bob Dole and George Mitchell, to persuade the other congresspeople from passing the bill. Ultimately, their efforts succeeded and the bill failed but the need for people to know how their chocolate is made persists.
Promising to only buy chocolate that is fair trade is an effective way to make sure that workers are paid fairly for their work, had safe and clean working conditions, and were of the appropriate age. Demanding that workers be paid fairly for their work and are given rights is crucial to prevent their exploitation and enable their success. I myself have stopped eating chocolate or chocolate products that are not certified as fair trade.
However, perhaps the most important thing you can do however is get involved. Sign petitions like this one Ferrero: stop child slavery, watch and support documentaries like The Dark Side of Chocolate, and talk about this issue on social media. The future of millions of children lies in your hands and in the persistence of your sweet tooth.