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Starbucks, M & M Mars, Wal-Mart - Common Denominator Sweatshops

by Joanna Farley
May 2005

It is certainly unfortunate that slavery still exists in the world. In reality, it continues to thrive in many foreign company locations, despite supposed strict measures taken to abolish slavery over the years. The smallest estimations indicate that at least 27 million people toil in the utmost desolate forced bondage conditions possible on this earth. The areas affected by this devastation include places such as Nigeria, Indonesia, and Brazil. It is a shame to note that other sources document the number referred to above to be as much as 10 times larger ("In Ecuador", 5). However, it is also imperative to note that slavery statistics at times are particularly uncertain because there is a definite lack of information on the precise number of those in bondage. The companies involved in these tactics prefer to keep their operations masked. Nevertheless, as more and more products are available in the United States and other more developed countries, the truth is becoming increasingly accessible as well. In a more intensely focused approach, there will now be a thorough examination of some various examples of American-adored companies that exploit child slave labor for their own advancement ("In Ecuador", 7).

Those who shop at the retail store known as Wal-Mart know and love it for its cheap and good quality products. This is just a mask disguising the company's true intentions. First, in January 2004, the New York Times reported on an internal Wal-Mart audit which found "extensive violations of child labor laws and state regulations requiring time for breaks and meals." One week of time records from 25,000 employees in July 2000 found 1,371 instances of minors working too late, during school hours, or for too many hours in a day. There were 60,767 missed breaks and 15,705 lost meal times ("Wal-Mart", 3-4). Second, according to the New York Times report: "Verette Richardson, a former Wal-Mart cashier in Kansas City, MO., said it was sometimes so hard to get a break that some cashiers urinated on themselves. Bella Blaubergs, a diabetic who worked at a Wal-Mart in Washington State, said she sometimes nearly fainted from low blood sugar because managers often would not give breaks ("Wal-Mart", 5). Next, a store manager in Kentucky told the New York Times that, after the audit was issued, he received no word from company executives to try harder to cut down on violations: "There was no follow-up to that audit, there was nothing sent out I was aware of saying, 'We're bad. We screwed up. This is the remedy we're going to follow to correct the situation" ("Wal-Mart", 5).

Wal-Mart claims that their products are made in America, but this is entirely false. Wal-Mart's demands on suppliers that they cut costs have caused these suppliers to move majority production overseas. Greg Palast reports that Chinese dissident Hongda Wu discovered, in 1995, that Wal-Mart was contracting prison slave labor in Guangdong Province (Miller, 10). Wu and Palast fight together that numerous items at Wal-Mart are made by the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Hongda Wu is a convicted felon who served 19 years in China. Slave labor is hard labor prison in China. American prisons also make products and hence continue slave labor. Michael Moore's recent documentary showed American prisoners making jeans and providing travel advices for several states (James, 6). In Bangladesh, Palast reported that in 1992 teenagers were working in "sweatshops" approximately 80 hours per week, at $0.14 per hour, for Wal-Mart contractor Beximco. In 1994, Guatemalan Wendy Diaz reported that, at the age of 13, she had been working for Wal-Mart at $0.30 per hour (Miller, 11).

Another beloved American favorite is Starbucks coffee. They certainly charge high prices for their elaborate fancy drinks. Many Americans insist on only consuming Starbucks blend coffee, considering anything else inferior. However, like everyone else, Starbucks is also an imposter trying to hide the truth. Their coffee is not premium as everyone believes it to be. Starbucks uses cheap coffee to construct its products, and it is super cheap to make. In addition, there are no environmental standards, worker standards, or worker unions. Total control is assumed by the company ("Fighting", 13).

Coffee in general is a labor-intensive product to cultivate, harvest and process. Extra care to maintain a standard of quality on the farm and through the finalization processes requires additional time and effort. Coffee experts in producing countries estimate that the amount of labor required to produce a pound of coffee is 2.2 hours. Even at commodity price levels of $1.00, pressure to have labor costs low is intense. At current prices, which have decreased far below the average cost of production, labor costs are being driven down even further ("Fighting", 13).

There is some good that Starbucks adheres to. Starbucks also markets "fair trade certified coffee" that makes sure that "farmers who grew the coffee received a premium price above the prevailing market prices," which helps them have a better quality of life ("Fair Trade"). This in itself notes that the company is concerned about its international policies. Yet it reminds one of one of many students in a school, who are generally nice kids and by senior year learn that there are other people in their grade instead of those in their crowd, yet are still torn between being popular and breaking out of their familiar group of friends. Ultimately, it is an excuse that they use to justify their reasons for their ignorance. It is common knowledge that a company, or a person, has reached full maturity once they can change these comfortable habits and explore broader horizons.

There is yet another American company known to use child slave labor. M&M/Mars Inc. has often employed harvest of cocoa beans for their chocolate from the Ivory Coast. Most of these cocoa beans come from the poor West African coast. Child slave labor has increased because of such low prices in the cocoa industry in the past few years. Cocoa farmers now receive about one cent in exchange for a candy bar. Due to this insufficient payment method, cocoa growers have been forced to cut their labor costs, thus in turn causing them to utilize child slave labor. These ridiculously low prices mean that cocoa farmers and children endure intense suffering. Meanwhile, M&M/Mars benefits from the low cocoa prices and lower raw material costs ("In Ecuador", 9).

M&M/Mars Inc. and other companies comprising the general chocolate industry have agreed to take small measures decreasing this exploitative cruelty. They have released a Protocol and Joint Statement. However, their plan does not include a guarantee for fair wages for adults. If M&M/Mars Inc. would become Fair Trade Certified, it would greatly correct the situation. Being Fair Trade Certified allows a minimum price per pound and disallows child and forced labor. Fair Trade Certified products are widely available in Europe, but in the US. Fair Trade specifies that chocolate producers must be small farmers. A majority 90% of all cocoa worldwide is made by small private farmers who own twelve acres or less ("In Ecuador", 10). Fair Trade is therefore quite possible and readily available for most of world's cocoa producers. M&M/Mars has the capability to improve the world's overall plight by enacting Fair Trade Certification. It is the fourth largest private company in the US, controls up to 17% of the US chocolate market, and is the leader of the $13 billion chocolate industry.

All three companies, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and M&M/Mars are involved in unfair exploitation of young children in third-world countries. It is sad to see such derogatory and medieval treatment thrives in our world. Demanding Fair Trade Certification and writing/sending petitions to various companies like those described above will hopefully force them to stop these practices. Slavery will continue to exist in the US until it is dealt with as a main priority and countered for good. Until people rate it as the most pressing current issue, there will be no effective end.

Sources Used:


Available online at http://ihscslnews.org/

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

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