Child Slave Labor and Chocolate Manufacturing
by Austin Melillo
Most people when they hear the term "slavery" think that it is an old Civil War era practice and that it no longer exists. But oddly enough, slavery is now at a new height. Today, about 700,000 women and children are trafficked into slavery every year and the profits from this trade are at about $7 billion a year. Trafficking, as defined by the United Nations, is "the illegal and clandestine movement across national or international borders, with the end goal of forcing women and children into economically oppressive or exploitative situations for profit."
Child slaves are typically bought from their parents at a young age of about 12-16 years old. The parents, believing that the kids are going to make some money and send it home to help the family, sell the child to the buyer. From there, he/she is trafficked across borders to areas that need the cheap labor, such as the Ivory Coast. Children are typically brought to the Ivory Coast from the neighboring country of Mali. There, men look for impoverished kids to bring to the Ivory Coast and sell to plantation owners in need of labor.
The Ivory Coast is the largest producer of cocoa, manufacturing forty-three percent of the world’s cocoa supply. There are over half a million cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast. It’s estimated that about fifteen thousand child slaves work on these plantations. This cocoa is largely produced by means of child slave labor. None of the plantations in the Ivory Coast can say that their cocoa was produced entirely without the use of child slave labor. Child slave labor in this area increased primarily due to an economic crisis that happened in the 1980's. The economy in this area of the world is largely based upon the cocoa industry, which provides almost one third of the country’s revenue. This means that the country’s economy depends on the cocoa markets’ prices. Since cocoa is considered a very unstable cash crop, plantation owners have to find a way to keep profits up. When the economy turned bad, plantation owners started to look for cheaper labor forces in order to keep profits at a maximum. They turned to increased slave labor.
Child slaves in the cocoa industry have to work in horrendous conditions. The work day is usually from six in the morning until sometimes, six at night, every day. Most have to do the work with various pesticides and insecticides without the use of the necessary protective clothing. Moreover, the cocoa pod is a particularly hard crop to harvest. It must be cut down from tall plants with long handled machetes, and split open so the beans inside can be scooped out. It takes about 400 cocoa pods to make a pound of chocolate.
Most of the children that are working on the plantations did not have the opportunity of education. The long hours they work make it difficult for them to balance work and school, although there are a third of the working children that manage to make it fit. The plantation owners don’t usually feed the children properly. Most of the time, the children are allowed one meal of corn paste a day. Also, the children are locked up at night to prevent them from escaping.
Being a child slave leaves both physical and mental scars on a person. Physically, the children are scarred from malnutrition since plantation owners do not feed them properly. Also, they are scarred from the harsh working conditions as well as from the almost daily beatings given to them by the owners. They are also mentally scarred from the traumatic situations through which they have lived. Psychologists said "children subjected to slave labor are irrevocably changed. Being a slave is often a process of systematic destruction of a person’s mind, body, and spirit."
Unfortunately, some of the biggest names in the chocolate industry are connected to the child slave labor in the Ivory Coast. Big companies like Hershey’s, Nestle, and M&M Mars are all buyers of chocolate made by child slaves. Hershey’s and M&M Mars control two thirds of the $13 billion chocolate industry. Both those companies buy largely from the cocoa produced from the Ivory Coast, which undoubtedly has some slave produced cocoa in it. In 2001, the House of Representatives voted in favor of trying to create a label to be put on chocolate that would indicate whether or not it was made by slaves or fairly treated workers. The bill did not get put into effect.
There have been initiatives by some chocolate companies to completely avoid using chocolate made by slaves. The largest company that does this is Newman’s Own Organic. One report says "Newman’s Own buys its cocoa from Costa Rica, where the plantations are monitored closely." There has been some success in stopping the use of child slaves for chocolate, but there is still much more progress to be made, primarily in the Ivory Coast, to ensure that no one is being mistreated in the manufacture of chocolate that they will never taste.