Chocolate and Child Slavery 2013 Update

The prevalence of human trafficking, child slavery, and abusive labor practices in the cacao industry is surprisingly under-reported.  With the average US citizen eating over 11lbs of chocolate (that’s about 120 chocolate bars), per year, it is incredible to consider how few of us are aware of the atrocities involved in 70% or more of the world’s cacao production.

I first wrote about this topic last year, but was recently motivated to revamp my earlier article.  As a devoted chocolate lover, I was shocked and horrified to discover that many of my favorite seasonal treats – treats that bring so much joy to children here in the US – are produced using abusive child labor.  Major, trusted chocolate brands are often guilty of including cacao harvested by children and slaves in their supply chains.

Now, I choose to boycott any chocolate supplier who refuses to certify their products as free of coercive labor practices, child labor, and human trafficking.

According to an investigative report by the BBC, hundreds of thousands of children are being purchased from their parents or outright stolen and then shipped to Ivory Coast, where they are enslaved on cocoa farms.  Destitute parents in these poverty-stricken lands sell their children to traffickers believing that they will find honest work in Ivory Coast and send some of their earnings home. The terrible reality is that these children, 11-to-16-years-old but sometimes younger, are forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, receive no education, are under fed, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again.

Cacoa Slavery Dark Side of chocolate human trafficking

This image is published with permission courtesy of photographer Henrik Ipsen and the film The Dark Side of Chocolate.

Over a decade ago, two Congressmen, U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, attempted to remedy this issue.  They introduced legislation mandating a labeling system for chocolate. After the deep pockets of the chocolate corporations protested, a compromise was reached that required chocolate companies to voluntarily certify they had stopped the practice of child labor. Originally, the certification process would include labeling chocolate products “Child Labor Free,” but the labeling component was removed as part of the compromise.  Many believe the legislation lost its teeth at that point.

Instead of the “Child Labor Free” label, the protocol now calls for public reporting by African governments, establishment of an audit system, and poverty remediation by 2005. The deadline had to be extended to 2008 (read Fortune Magazine’s report on the state of the protocol in 2008) and again to 2010. Today, human rights organizations report that some of the provisions have still not been met, and it is the biggest corporations who refuse to comply.

In 2012 there were some rumblings that this might be changing, but the change is likely to remain grindingly slow.  Child slavery keeps costs down, which allows major corporations to keep their chocolate cheap.  Not only does it cost more to pay laborers a fair wage, but the cost of monitoring the extensive supply chains of global corporations would be significant.

The next time you reach for a candy bar, buy candy to hand out to trick-or-treaters, or stock up for holiday baking, consider the price thousands of children are paying to bring you your chocolaty cheer.

But don’t despair yet, chocolate lovers, ethically sourced chocolate is gaining prevalence and becoming easier to find (not to mention afford) every day.  The key is in consumer awareness.  Consumer dollars send a very clear message to manufacturers about what the public will and will not tolerate.

The most effective way to find ethically sourced chocolate is to look for a short supply chain.  “Bean to bar” producers who own the entire production chain all the way back to the beans and “Direct Trade” producers whose chocolate comes from single, identifiable origins are ideal.  Many companies today who proudly list extensive information on the cacao farms they work with on their labels.  Equal Exchange and Askinosie Chocolate are two examples of such companies.

There are also several certifications on chocolate labels to indicate a slavery-free supply chain.  These include Fair Trade, Equal Exchange, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance (which has an added environmental component – perfect since the chocolate industry is also guilty of devastating rainforests for plantations and production).  Keep in mind that certification has its own bureaucratic pros and cons.  Certification must be paid for by the company seeking it which can be a hurdle for small producers.  A company can be ethical without certification, and a company with certification may still have other questionable practices.

The article Is There Child Slavery in Your Chocolate? from the Huffington Post includes a long list of chocolate companies who are proudly Child Labor Free.

Ethically sourced brands can be more expensive than chocolate harvested by slaves, but the extra few cents is worth it every single time.  Ethically sourced chocolate is so easy to find these days, I can’t remember the last time I had a problem finding it.  Still, if I can’t find slave-free chocolate, I don’t buy chocolate.  For holidays we often order in bulk, which can be a big money saver.

Other steps you can take to help with this cause:

*Fill out Hershey’s corporate responsibility online survey. Urge them to establish an ethical and slavery-free supply chain.  Tell them you won’t have your money contributing to human trafficking.

* For as little as $6.00, get a DVD copy of the film The Dark Side of Chocolate, along with information about Fair Trade, from the dedicated people at Green America. Watch it, show it to your friends, and spread the word.

* EDUCATE YOURSELF AND OTHERS.  Tweet about this article, pin it, and post it to your facebook page. Spread the word until this dirty little secret is completely out in the open.

Check out these sources for more information:

Is There Child Slavery in Your Chocolate?
The Human Cost of Chocolate
Tulane University Assessment of Child Labour in the Cocoa Supply Chain
The Dark Side of Chocolate
How to Buy Ethical Chocolate
A Guide to Ethical Chocolate

Urban Earthworm

Bringing you green lifestyle tips for everyday sustainablity and Ethical Eating from the working mom trenches, Urban Earthworm is a personal story of making sustainability work in everyday life. Touching on a myriad of topics, the focus is on working with what you have to make the world a better place. Ethical Eating with some vegan and vegetarianism thrown in, gardening, urban farming, backyard chickens, agricultural law, natural parenting, getting kids involved, herbs, home remedies, breastfeeding, homebirth, fitness, recipes, and just about anything else one might encounter on a journey toward sustainability. That's the focus. Be on the lookout for random Harry Potter and Friends references, observations about getting older, and a fair amount of snark and book love. "Possibly the most flippant military attorney you will ever meet."

5 thoughts on “Chocolate and Child Slavery 2013 Update

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  • May 15, 2014 at 03:15

    I am friends with a man who was orphaned in Ivory Coast and forced into this exact practice. He now is raising money to build schools for the child slaves there. He has permission of the government and the owners to rotate the children through his schools each year so every child gets an education. Look up his organization Well Africa, he could use any help to try to change the future of these innocent children.

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  • December 28, 2013 at 22:23

    Thank you for the update. This year I read E. Benjamin Skinner’s book “A Crime So Monstrous.” It is about modern slavery and the astonishing prevalence of human trafficking. It has made me painfully aware of how much I take for granted and how many may be suffering because of it. Thank you for continuing to shine a light on this issue.

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