For Children, By Children: When Chocolate Is More Bitter Than Sweet

By: Saira Malhotra

As we gear up for Halloween, purchasing ghastly ghouls and Halloween candy, Kristin Howerton of Good Food, brings up a very important dialogue of 'Chocolate'. The next few months representing several holidays will lead to an increased purchase of chocolate, but what does that mean on the back end of the industry? The back doors which certain governments and cocoa suppliers hope will remain tightly shut from public viewing.

Africa, a rich source of most things primary, is known for its luscious growth of the cocoa beans. Over half of the world's cocoa is obtained from Africa, most of which comes from the Ivory Coast. As one devours creamy and molten pieces that have been so whimsically wrapped by colorful and foiled paper, it is easy to lose sight of the slavery it represents. Today, at least 40% of the chocolate we consume comes from slavery. According to a study conducted by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, 284,000 of these slaves are children that work in life threatening conditions every day, hacking through the plantations with machetes or spraying pesticides without any protection.

The story is a sad one but unfortunately not unique: many of these children have been taken from their families to work on cocoa plantations at the tender ages of 6 and older.  Technically, the legal age to work is 18, yet there is an evident loop in the system driven by external market forces and poverty. According to LaborRights.Org, some 10,000 of these children are a result of child trafficking. Working without protection, sometimes 100-hour weeks, physical abuse, and no proper medical attention are just some of the challenges these children face.

This is a murky world where both sin and pleasure are equal participants. According to a CNN report, large cocoa exporters, such as Cargill and Saf-Cacao, don't own the plantations. However, human rights activists believe that large chocolate companies, be it cocoa suppliers or chocolate manufacturers, are in position to demand better and correct working environments for people. In 2001, reports that a protocol was signed by 8 leading chocolate companies to eradicate '"worst forms of child labor" in the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Ivory Coast - child trafficking or forced labor. In particular, companies agreed to expand child labor prevention programs in cocoa-producing countries.' However, more than a decade later, "the results have fallen short", according to Flurina Doppler, of the Swiss-based Berne Declaration.

In response to these inhumane working conditions, a number of fair-trade companies have popped up in recent years and are manufacturing all kinds of products from tea to chocolate. Fair-trade have been slow in growth and perhaps not as aesthetically appealing, however, as consumers, we can play a critical role. By supporting these products through purchase, we will encourage other companies to follow similar business practices.

Photo: McMarcLouwes

For more updates on food politics, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)