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Ignorance is Bliss

by John Zetterstrom
December 2006

Ignorance is bliss. That is a fact that much of the chocolate industry focuses on. When an American bites into a chocolate bar, in many cases, he or she is unaware of the thousands of child and teenagers it took to harvest the cocoa beans used to make those candy bars. As children in America prepare for the fifth grade, children in the Ivory Coast fall victim to the many recruiters of child trading.

Most of the Ivory Coast’s business comes from exporting goods. The cocoa plant was first found in 1880 in the Ivory Coast and cocoa farms began to slowly develop. Coffee was the biggest export until 1970 after the Coast gained its independence. Nowadays, the Ivorians are very dependent on cocoa farms for their economy. One third of the economy to be exact. And people do buy it. The Ivory Coast supplies about one-half of the world’s cocoa, the United States being the biggest buyer. Which chocolate companies? It’s hard to tell. “Almost all the major brands of chocolate use some cocoa from the Ivory Coast, which provides 43 percent of the cocoa that goes into the $13 billion American chocolate industry. However, since cocoa beans from different places are mixed in highly secret recipes, it is not possible to identify those tainted with slave labor.” (Melwani “Bitter Chocolate”)

But why are slaves needed for cocoa farms? Cocoa farming is a risky and sometimes bad business. Obviously the normal risk of bad harvests and bad weather runs true. But more so is the risk of the price. The trading price of cocoa is one of the most unpredictable ones. The price is determined by multiplying the bean price by a ratio of cocoa powder and cocoa butter. If the ratio falls below a certain number, than the production of cocoa generates a very low profit. It’s these low profits and risky circumstances that leads farmers to buy children and use slave labor, rather than paying a fair price.

In West and Central Africa alone 200,000 children are trafficked and sold into slavery. About 15,000 of those children work in the cocoa fields. The process starts in Mali, which is one of the world’s poorest countries, and where the farmers get most of their workers. In Mali, families are barely able to support themselves (Gross Domestic Product of 850$ per capita). In other West African countries the poverty is no different, with poverty levels ranging from 40 to 75%. This leaves the parents of the families dependent on the children to work themselves, and forces their children to look to other countries for work. It’s in these situations that the sharks of the trafficking industry make their move. The agents usually promise the child work and that he may support his family. As young as nine, the children are then smuggled into the Ivory Coast and imprisoned in the many facets of child slave labor.

In the famous 2001 document from the Knight Ridder news service, Sudarson Raghavan and Sumana Charterjee report on Aly Diabate, a former child slave. When Aly, a native of Mali, was 12 he was promised a bicycle and 150$ for his family. He had no idea what his future had in store for him, full of vicious and brutal beatings (the slaves were usually beaten or flogged with bicycle chains or braches from trees). The day started at 6 and ended at 6:30 and was filled with more than average workloads. There was no filtering into specific jobs based on the physical potential of the slave. Aly had to lift bags taller then him filled with cocoa beans and transport them. The only way he was able to do this was to have another worker lift them onto his head. When Aly became to weary, or fell because the pressure of the bags were too heavy, the farmers aids would beat him till he rose again.

The child’s life was filled with the monotonous cycle of harvesting the cocoa. It takes 400 cocoa beans to make a pound of chocolate. “The boys who work on Ivory Coast's cocoa farms cut 10 pods from the trees, slice them open, scoop out the beans, spread them in baskets or on mats and cover them to ferment. Then they uncover the beans, put them in the sun to dry, bag them and load them onto trucks to begin the long journey to America or Europe.” (Charterjee)

“Yet when nightfall came, Aly's torture did not end. He and eighteen other slave workers had to stay in their one room that measured 24-by-20 feet. The boys all slept on a wooden plank. There was but one small hole just big enough to let in some air. Aly and the others had to urinate in a can, because once they went into the room, they were not allowed to leave. To ensure this, Le Gros would lock the room.” (Chanthavong)

There is a cultural barrier between West Africa and us. The West Africans believe that it is natural for a child to be working, because of the poverty of their families. Therefore, the sight of children working is not out of the ordinary, or even negative for that matter. The farmers also believe it to be relatively fair. The farms in West Africa are usually started by men who have many wives and many children. Their children usually grow up working in the field, so when they buy the slaves it is also considered regular.

Education in the Ivory Coast is unaffordable to many families and children in the surrounding areas. It is custom for the children to start to work as soon as they can. Also families send their children away to learn a new trade. The child is sent away to live with another family to learn a trade such as carpentry, or sewing. The child does not return for many months, usually years. So when a family sends out their child to find work, and they fall victim to an agent of child slavery, the families may consider normal to not hear from them, even though they are suffering severe injustices.

Which chocolate companies use slave chocolate? It is hard to tell. The cocoa beans usually get mixed in with the freely made beans. “But Hershey's and M&M Mars - who control two-thirds of the market,…. fall into the category of those companies who use large amounts of Ivory Coast cocoa, and whose products are almost certainly produced in part by slavery.” (Robbins) The American Companies do not participate directly in the child slave labor, and are obviously not responsible. Hershey Foods Corporation (the nations top chocolate producer), who participates in many programs for children (such as schools for orphans and disadvantaged children), responded to the suggestion of child slavery with such words as “shocked” and “deeply concerned.”

M&M Mars and Hershey Foods Corp. are not alone. Other companies whose chocolate is almost certainly tainted with child slavery include: ADM Cocoa, Ben & Jerry's, Cadbury Ltd., Chocolates by Bernard Callebaut, Fowler's Chocolate, Godiva, Guittard Chocolate Company, Kraft, Nestle, 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 it exists in the industry, they each have acknowledged that they use Ivory Coast cocoa and so have no grounds to ensure consumers that their products are slavery-free (Robbins) .

Mars, Hershey, and Nestle claim there is no way to ensure that their cocoa suppliers don’t use slave labor. Many smaller companies use suppliers that are certified to be 100% slave free. Many critics say if the large companies truly wanted to do something about the slavery epidemic that they would be able to secure non-slave cocoa suppliers.

The companies that use slave-free chocolate are Clif Bar, Cloud Nine, Dagoba Organic Chocolate, Denman Island Chocolate, Gardners Candies, Green and Black's, Kailua Candy Company, Koppers Chocolate, L.A. Burdick Chocolates, Montezuma's Chocolates, Newman's Own Organics, Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company, Rapunzel Pure Organics, and The Endangered Species Chocolate Company. There is no records of the Ivory Coast exporting any organic cocoa bean, so companies who use organic beans (Newman's Own Organics) are most-likely slave free. “The company's chocolate is purchased through the Organic Commodity Project in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It comes from Costa Rica where the farms are closely monitored.” (Robbins)

There are many companies and organizations working hard to end child slavery. There are also many companies and organizations who are choosing to look away. The important thing is that people get involved and stop being oblivious, and to start helping the thousands involved. Chocolate is supposed to be a food of happiness…. Ignorance is bliss…..apparently not for Aly Diabate.

Sources Used:


Available online at http://ihscslnews.org/

Immaculata Child Slave Labor News
Immaculata High School, Somerville, NJ

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