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“Bittersweet” Chocolate

by Kyle MacDonald
December 2006

Child slave labor is a burning issue in today’s society. Many people nowadays refuse to purchase certain items because they know child slaves make particular products. Slave labor is responsible for the manufacturing of products such as toys, sport jerseys, shoes, and surprisingly, chocolate. Chocolate is made from coco that is found in places such as the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon. These places are the worst offenders of child slave labor and its association with the chocolate business and don’t show any signs of improving soon.

According to an article written by Caroline Tiger on Salon.com, studies have shown that the Ivory Coast, among many other countries, has the worst and longest correlation to child slave labor. In this western African country, where 43% of the world’s coca beans are grown, children are sold into slavery between the ages of 9 and 16. After being sold into slavery, the adolescents are then put on coca farms to harvest coca beans, from which chocolate is made from. These farms are dangerous, inhumane, and extremely abusive to the children working on them. Their jobs include clearing large fields, harvesting cocoa beans, and eventually cultivating the cocoa. Most of the slaves are deprived young men and boys from Togo, Benin, and especially Mali. Because of the remote location of the Ivory Coast, slavery has been persistent and hard to detect.

This problem became most evident in a 1998 report from UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. The report divulged, “That some Ivory Coast farmers use enslaved children, many of them from the poorer neighboring countries of Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo.” In addition to that statement, the International Labor Organization out of Geneva, Switzerland, as well found that many countries in widespread Africa partake in the trafficking of young children for toil purposes.

Child slave labor initially reached a broader public audience in 2001 when Kate Blewett and Brian Woods produced a British television documentary. The documentary was entitled “Slavery” and “claimed that 90% of Ivory Coast coca plantations used forced labor. “ The show also revealed a ship that was found near West Africa supposedly trafficking child slaves. In addition to “Slavery,” a reporter named Sudarsan Raghavan that worked for Knight Ridder, and American Media Company, released detailed testimonies depicting the callous ways of child slave labor. He experienced the tragedies first hand as he traveled deep into the Ivory Coast where cocoa farms use child slaves. He claimed, “The Ivorian government is involved in the practice as are the farmers and chocolate manufacturers in America and Europe.” He then went on to say that, “The chocolate consumers may not know the problem associated with the chocolate they buy.”

After the release of the reports and broadcasts, some British consumer assemblies demanded that the United Kingdom’s chief chocolate producers, Nestle and Cadbury, source chocolate that is free of slavery. This was a very tough request because the companies buy coca at International Exchanges and Ivorian cocoa is mixed with other cocoa making it nearly impossible to tell which cocoa is slave generated.

Following those reports, BBC also released several accounts illustrating the hardships of child slave labor. The British Broadcasting Company reported in 2001, “That uncounted numbers of children have been reported missing in Sikasso, Mali. Many of them are believed kidnapped and sold as slaves for about $30.00. Other children are sold by their parents. In the poor parts of Mali, street sellers and other slum families sometimes sell their children into slavery for a few dollars.” The report concluded stating that, “15,000 children or more are in the Cote d’Ivoire, some under 11. They are unlikely ever to be reunited with their families. Often they are held forcibly on farms and made to do tiring work for 80 to 100 hours per week. Those who attempt to escape are beaten.”

A former slave, Aly Diabate described the adversities during his child slave days. “The beatings were a part of my life, anytime they loaded you with bags (of cocoa beans) and you fell while carrying them, nobody helped you. Instead they beat you and beat you until you picked it up again.” Another former slave, Malick Doumbia, said, “he had escaped but thousands are still there and if just one was freed through the report that would be good.” The BBC testimony also advised that the Sikasso police chief is sure that the children have gone into slavery. He added that the children are overworked until they become ill and some unfortunately perish. In response to these stories, Save the Children Fund established a refuge camp for former slave children. Sadly, there currently aren’t any children there. Mali’s Save the Children Fund director, Salia Kante, has said, “People who are drinking cocoa or coffee are drinking their blood. It is the blood of young children carrying 6 kilograms of cocoa sacks so heavy that they have wounds all over their shoulders. Its really pitiful to see.”

After hearing the horrible incidents involved in child slave labor, one may ask how this global problem started and what caused it to come about. The main factors that triggered this illegal form of toiling are attributed to West Africa’s historical and continuing dependence on exports, poverty, and culture. Western African countries such as the Ivory Coast have been heavily dependent on exports such as coffee, timber, and cocoa since the time of their existence. Presently, a significant one-third of the Ivorian government is based on cocoa exports. This has not augured well for the country because cocoa is one of the most unstable commodities on the market. This negatively affects the cocoa farmers as they receive fewer profits, resulting in them looking for ways to cut. In turn, the costs are but by utilizing child labor.

Child slave labor is also caused by the immense poverty that plagues Western Africa. Since many of the countries don’t have a strong employment basis, people are forced to look for work elsewhere. They drift to the Ivory Coast thinking they can earn a steady paying job, but are trapped into rigorous hours of picking cocoa beans for nothing.

The culture also plays a large part in causing child slave labor. The long-standing tradition in Africa is to send the children away to live with another family. There they learn a special skill as an alternative to an expensive education that they simply cannot afford. The children are usually sent to the Ivory Coast because of its reputation of promise and diversity. Here they are picked up by slave traffickers and forced to work in arduous conditions for pay equal to nothing.

This is not only an African issue, but also an international economic issue. Chocolate, along with the cocoa bean, being the highly demanded products they are on today’s market, are a part of everyone’s daily life. Many organizations in the chocolate business are inescapably drawn into this worldwide problem. It starts from the slave traffickers who produce the chocolate and ends with the consumers who unknowingly buy the salve made treat. Due to the mounting attention on this matter, discussions have sparked in how to combat this worldwide crisis.

In the recent years, there have been many calls to action in an effort to terminate child slave labor. A variety of anti-slavery groups have put their words in trying to make a difference. Some have suggested boycotting cocoa products, but in reality, the embargo would be unsuccessful and hurt the non-slave corporations. Anti-Slavery International, a coalition determined to fight child slavery, submitted a report stating, “Because of the way the chocolate industry buys cocoa it is not possible to ensure that slave or other forms of illegal exploitation have not been used in its production.” This statement proves how hard it really is to ensure that today’s chocolate is not slave produced.

According to Anti-Slavery International, “Companies ought to buy from plantations directly to ensure proper treatment of workers.” Carole Pearson, a member of the Organic Consumers Organization, an American lobby group, advocates consumers to fight against slavery by “boycotting main brands and only buying chocolate with a Fair Trade label.” Although this idea has good intentions, as stated before, boycotting will only cause harm to innocent chocolate companies.

Fair Trade is what the world has come to accept as the most prominent solution to unfair labor practices. Fair Trade is an organization that, “Guarantees producers the income they need to send their children to school and pay their workers fair wages, and provides consumers with a trusted guarantee that no forced or abusive child labor was used in the making of their products” says the Fair Trade Federation.

The bottom line is that child slave labor is an economic worldwide issue that needs to be resolved in the near future. The right people are doing the proper things to ensure that it is dealt with, but everyone needs to partake in the efforts to purge this tragedy. Hopefully, in the next 5 to 10 years, we will all be eating chocolate that is truly bittersweet.

Sources Used:


Available online at http://ihscslnews.org/

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

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