Kiss of Death
Image 1: Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Kiss Ad
The above Hershey’s advertisement shows a wine glass filled with the glistening, shiny, brightness of the company’s iconic, foiled chocolate kiss. A petite banner protrudes out of the tip, inviting one to open it and savor the delectable dark chocolate inside. It is an iconic symbol of taste. But don’t be fooled, because chocolate production was not so tasteful in the past. The beans that enrich the Hershey’s Kiss, and other company’s chocolate, come from what is called the Ivory Coast. This paper examines labor injustices found in the chocolate production from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, in West Africa, which expose the connection to child labor and human trafficking.
What is the role that African chocolate producers have? Initially, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, cacao beans were imported from São Tomé and Príncipe, West Africa, but reports of slavery ensued. The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe had functioned as transfer bases for earlier slave trade. Ultimately, chocolate companies instead started exporting cacao beans from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. The conditions in West Africa have the ideal conditions for cultivating and growing the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao. The cacao tree flourishes on the humidity, rain, and shady topography of the region. Today, most of the world’s cacao beans come from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. During a lecture called “Modern Day Slavery,” Harvard Professor Carla Martin teaches that Côte d’Ivoire produced one million, one hundred and forty million metric tons of cocoa in the years 1997 – 1998, involving about nine-hundred thousand farmers (Lecture 8). Similarly, Ghana produced three hundred, seventy-nine thousand metric tons of cocoa during the same time period, involving about eight-hundred thousand farmers (Martin, Lecture 8). What is shocking is a 2015 study which “showed the average income per capita per day for a Ghanaian cacao farming household is approximately $0.50 – $0.80 USD” (Martin, Lecture 8).
Why are the farmers earning so little? It is because of the political and economic dynamics of the past in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, and, the government controls it! Carol Off, in the book Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side Of The World’s Most Seductive Sweet, teaches us that Félix Houphouët-Boigny, founding father of Côte d’Ivoire, realized during the 1970s and 1980s that the “fecund farmland could grow a botanical equivalent of gold” (3 – 4). However, upon his death, Côte d’Ivoire became ruled by ruthless, greedy politicians, which led to instability and war. “Much of the fighting is over ownership of cocoa-producing land, as conflicting armies and paramilitaries vie for control of Côte d’Ivoire’s immense agricultural wealth” (Off 4). Additionally, Amanda Berlan, a professor at the Coventry Business School at Coventry University in the United Kingdom, in an article entitled “Social Sustainability in Agricultural; An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana” explains the dynamic, quoting scholar Ingham, “’Lower cash costs of production associated with plentiful supplies of family labour probably provided the basis for the entry of Ghana into the world cocoa industry’” (1095). This role in which the African cocoa producers are involved is shocking.
What is more shocking is that cocoa production involves illicit trade in human trafficking and child labor! Órla Ryan, a journalist for Reuters in Africa for four years, wrote about cocoa and child labor and trafficking in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in a chapter titled “Child Labour” in the book, Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying For Cocoa in West Africa in 2011. She points out that “Alhassan Osman, a fellow at Accra’s University of Ghana, who researched child labour for Swedwatch, an NGO (non-governmental organization), said officials kept silent over Ghana’s child labour problem for fear it would hurt the sector___’For a country like Ghana, where the economy still thrives on cocoa, some officials say that saying (child labour) exists might lead to an embargo, it might cast a slur on the cocoa we export’” (Ryan 47). My research on this has inspired me to contrast the Hershey’s image found at the beginning of this paper, to an imagined, different advertising image which advocates against human trafficking and child labor in the production of chocolate:
Image 2: Kiss of Death Ad
This image shows blood dripping from a tainted Hershey’s Kiss, with the caption “Kiss of Death” imprinted on the small banner juxtaposed between the foil and the pool of blood at the bottom of the wine glass. It is a metaphor that implies that cocoa production is linked to a horrible life and sometimes death in chocolate production.
The children in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire endured physical abuse or even death. A lot of the children living in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire live in extreme poverty; therefore they have to work on the cocoa farms as a way to help support their families. Additionally, some families, who are naïve and under-educated to make an informed decision, sell their own children to human traffickers. Horrifically, oftentimes human traffickers kidnap children. According to Ryan, “Traffickers preyed on children at bus stops in Mali, promising riches on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire” (Ryan 44). “Once children got to the farm, they survived on little food, little or no pay and endured regular beatings” (Ryan 44). “There were no chains and no irons, but, unable leave their place of work, they were effectively slaves, harvesting the beans that were the key ingredient for chocolate” (Ryan 44). Off, in the book Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side Of The World’s Most Seductive Sweet, as relayed in chapter six, “The Disposables”, also illuminates the dark side of the child labor and trafficking issues involved in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. She interviewed Abdoulaye Macko, a “Malian consul general in Côte d’Ivoire, until his government recalled him in 2000,” perhaps because he was a “whistle-blower”” (119 – 120). Off informs “The pisteurs were convinced that the farmers were paying organized groups of smugglers to deliver the children to their cocoa groves, and they told Macko that the Côte d’Ivoire police were being bribed to look the other way” (121). For example, “The child traffickers worked in teams: a Malian man along with one from Côte d’Ivoire, and often a third from Burkina Faso, a country that was also a source of child workers” (Off 121). Macko further describes a wrenching account of how one child was left for dead. “I saw something hidden under a pile of leaves. At first I couldn’t believe it, but it was a child. He was sick, his pants were covered in his excrement, and they had left him out in the field to die” (Off 124). One has to wonder how many more similar circumstances actually resulted in death.
In closing, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are the largest producers of cocoa beans in the world, respectively. Hershey’s and other “Big Chocolate” companies have become entangled with Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, and indirectly, child labor and trafficking, but one will not see it reflected in their advertisements. So far, chocolate companies have not done enough to eradicate child labor and trafficking. What can be done? Collectively, the public at large could pledge to buy Fair Trade chocolate. Also, chocolate companies could strive for more transparency. Even though some strategies and organizations, like NGOs, have been initiated, their efforts will be contingent on the advocacy from the “Big Chocolate” companies, as well as from West African governments!
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agricultural; An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” 2013.
Image. “Hershey’s Dark Kisses.” http:www.flickr.com/photos/86045307@N08444825/. Cited April 2016.
Image. “Kiss of Death.” Phyllis Bert. April 2016.
Martin, Carla D, lecture “Modern Day Slavery,” Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. 23 March 2016.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side Of The World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, New York, New York, 2008.
Ryan, Órla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying For Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books Ltd, London, UK, 2001.