Think Before You Buy
Eating My Flesh:
Coffee and Chocolate Products Are Produced by Child Slave Labor
People around the world share a love of chocolate, one of the most delicious and pleasurable foods on earth. However, thousands of African children, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire, are forced to labor in the production of cocoa. They are modern-day slaves, bonded to their employers and forced against their will to work in hazardous and heartbreaking conditions. Denied access to basic education, medical care and in many cases, the comfort and reassurance of their own families, these children have no voice and little hope for the future.
Slave traders are trafficking boys ranging from the age of 12 to 16 from their home countries and are selling them to coca farmers in Côte d’Ivoire. They work on small farms across the country, harvesting the cocoa beans day and night under inhumane conditions. Most of the boys come from neighboring Mali, where agents hang around bus stations looking for children that are alone or are begging for food. They lure the kids to travel to Côte d’Ivoire with them, and then the traffickers sell the children to farmers in need of cheap labor.
The horrendous conditions under which children must toil on the cocoa farms of the Côte d’Ivoire are even more jarring when the facts are juxtaposed with the idea that most people associated with happiness and pleasure: chocolate. The connection serves to illustrate that the existence of misery in one part of the world and joy in another part are no longer divorced as nations are connected together in a globalized web of trade.
Thus, the pleasure that people from various nations around the world are deriving from these chocolate confections could possibly be at the expense of child slaves in Africa. The problem of child slavery then is not simply a fare way abstraction with no immediate implications for anybody else except those who are directly affected but rather it is an issue that everybody around the world should be concerned about and demand action to eradicate.
An estimated 70 percent of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa where 40 percent comes specifically from Côte d’Ivoire. Children working on cocoa farms, some who were victims of trafficking often work long hours in the heat coming in close contact with pesticides, expose to diseases and often use matches. Cocoa in West Africa is largely cultivated on small, family farms but because farmers do not receive fair compensation for their beans, they are often forced to cut labor costs and use the labor of children.
Nestlé is among the international chocolate companies that source coca from Côte d’Ivoire and other West African nations. Unlike other chocolate manufactures, Nestlé has operated representative offices and processing facilities within Côte d’Ivoire.
Today, almost a decade into the 21st century, most people regard slavery as an issue of the past. When people today think about slavery they may recall history class; discussing topics completely irrelevant to their own lives. Many people are unaware that, unfortunately slavery is still in existence today and it may be more tangent to their lives that they may expect. The major companies who dominate the chocolate industry such as Hershey, M&M/ Mars, and Nestlé all purchase their cocoa from the Ivory Cost in Africa.
The cocoa industry is to blame for most of the child labor that occurs on the Ivory Coast today. Every year the profit of human trafficking is about seven billion dollars. Around 200,000 children are trafficked yearly in Western and Central Africa. Children have their dignity stripped away from them as they experience man’s inhumanity to man and are treated poorly.
Since 2001, chocolate companies like Hershey, Mars, M&Ms and Nestlé have said that they would eliminate trafficking, forced labor and abusive child labor from their cocoa supply chains and yet thousands of children are still working under terrible conditions to produce the primary ingredient in these companies’ chocolate.
Children are forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, are badly fed, are beaten regularly, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again.
Hershey Foods Corporation, say it is “shocked” and “deeply concerned” that its products, such as Hershey’s kisses, Nuggets, Hershey chocolate bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, may be made with cocoa produced by child slaves. The company which has a long history of involvement with children, say it is deeply embarrassed by revelations of indirect involvement with child slavery. (Hershey Foods, which has a market capitalization on Wall Street of 8.4 billion dollars, is affiliated with a school for orphaned and disadvantaged children).
However these major companies are not the only ones involved with this certainly disturbing issue of child labor for chocolate manufacturing. Other companies whose chocolate is almost without doubt tainted with child slavery include: ADM Cocoa, Ben & Jerry’s Cabbury Ltd., Chocolates by Bernard Callebaut, Fowler’s Chocolate, Codiva, Guittard Chocolate Company, Kraft, See’s Candies, The Chocolate Vault and Toblerone. While most of these companies have issued condemnations of slavery, and expressed a great deal of moral outrage that slavery exists in the industry, they each have acknowledged that they use Ivory Coast cocoa and have no grounds to ensure consumers that their products are slavery-free.
Mars, Hershey and Nestlé often say that there is no way they can control the labor practices of their supplies but there are other chocolate companies who manage to do so, and it would seem that if the bigger companies really wanted to reform problems in the supply chain, they have the power and ability to do so. There are in fact many chocolate companies who only use cocoa that has definitely not been produced with slave labor. These companies range from Clif Bar to Cloud Nine, Dagoba Organic Chocolate, Denman Island Chocolate, and Gardner’s Candies. Green and Black’s Kailua Candy Company, to Koppers Chocolate, L.A. Burdick Chocolates, Cocoa Bean Company, Rapunzel Pure Organic and The Enckungered Species Chocolate Company.
“By being paid a premium price, these farming communities can and are developing their communities by their own means and terms; often times building schools for their children”--Fredrick Schilling of the Dagoba Organic Chocolate Company.
Although it is chocolate that has gotten the most publicity of late, chocolate isn’t the only American staple produced by slaves. Some coffee beans are also soiled by slavery. In addition to producing nearly half of the worlds’ cocoa, Ivory Cost is the worlds’ fourth-largest grower of Robusta coffee. Robusta beans are used for expresso and instant coffee. They are also blended with milder Arabica beans to make ground coffees.
More than 7,000 tons of Ivory Coast coffee arrives in the U.S. each year. Some coffee industry executives acknowledge the use of slaves, but say the labor issue isn’t their concern, knowing very well that they have the power to end this. According to the San Francisco—based Global Exchange, “The best way to pay workers is a living wage…” Most people in this country would rather buy a cup of coffee picked under fair trade conditions than sweat-shop labor conditions.
It is not easy for most consumers to stomach the contrast between exorbitant salaries and the gruesome reality of slave labor today. Nor is it easy to swallow the reality of such excess when millions of coffee and cocoa farmers around the world who depend on their harvests to provide for their families are facing debt and starvation. There seems to be something particularly hideous about making loads of money on the backs of the world’s poorest people; I guess we truly live in a “dog eat dog” world and the children are the ones who have to face the backlash of our greed and selfishness. These companies are corrupted beyond description, and no one seems to care about how things get done, but solely on getting things done; by any means necessary they say, once they see the green.
Chanthavong, Samlanchith. "Chocolate and Slavery."Child Labor in Cote d'Ivoire. TED Case Studies, 2002. Web. 6 May 2010. <http://www1.american.edu/ted/chocolate-slave.htm>.
Chevigny, Blue. "Child trafficking in Côte d’Ivoire." Efforts under way to reverse a tragic trend. Uniclef, 14 Jun 2007. Web. 6 May 2010. <http://www.unicef.org/protection/cotedivoire_39995.html>.
Scheihagen, Kyle. "Did Child Slaves Harvest Your Latest Chocolate Treat? ." Fair Trade. Global Exchange, 30 Jun 2005. Web. 6 May 2010. <http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/fairtrade/cocoa.html>