Cacao Slave Trade

“CANDY!!!” This is what you hear kids of all ages scream when they find out they are rewarded with a delicious candy bar. In many ways we condition the children of society to behave for these treats. Adults and children alike are at the mercy of said delicacies which have been perfected by candy makers all around the globe and the influence candy does have is evident in the way it is advertised and marketed towards us. Children are bribed with these sweets during holidays, any time they receive high marks in school, and overall for just behaving in general. With that being said, it is almost tragic to think that in another part of the world, candy is one of the only ways a child can reward themselves with another day of life. More specifically the production of Cacao and how its successful manufacturing or lack thereof determines the fate of the children who help produce the candy we identify as Chocolate. In this post I will attempt to highlight the negative impact the slave trade has had on children in third world countries when it pertains to the Cacao slave trade and how the high demand for chocolate in the United States and beyond is a direct cause of these children’s misfortune.

Children working on a Cacao farm

It goes without saying that slavery is one of the most inhumane practices to ever be documented by the human race. To force another individual to produce a resource in high commodity through grueling work processes and unsafe work environments for minimal pay is despicable, and yet this practice is ever so prevalent in society today. In regard to Cacao farming, children in West Africa are taken from their homes at a young age and are sold to cacao farms where they are forced to produce cacao beans from the pods they are sent to collect. These children range anywhere from five to sixteen years of age, and a large majority of them continue this work well after they have matured. They are paid less than five dollars for a days work and are expected to produce a substantial amount of product in a short time frame. Who is to blame for this injustice done upon these children who are simply trying to survive and provide for their families in areas where resources are limited? To avoid asking another rhetorical question let’s get straight to the point and acknowledge the fact that we are the source of the problem. Chocolate or rather Cacao, has become as crucial a resource in America similar to wheat, agriculture, and livestock.  As previously mentioned above, our society has integrated cacao into our everyday lives in such a way that it would be virtually impossible to reverse the ever growing issue that our high demand for cacao has on the children forced into the slave trade in other countries.

Cacao beans

Large corporations that sell chocolate such as Hershey and Nestle to name a few are prime contributors to the continuation of the slave trade as they have yet to stop dealing with the slave traders that take advantage of the children they have producing cacao for them. Due in part to the fact that they are a business making a large profit off of selling chocolate, why would these corporations modify their business strategies if the return on the dealings are more than what they are putting out? Anyone with a brain could see the logistics behind it, but there is a lack of morality in it all that we must acknowledge if we want to prevent future generations from experiencing something similar. The other cause of the never ending cycle that is the slave trade in the Cacao business is the consumer. These corporations pander to the people to ensure a sizeable return from satisfied consumers of their product. We play a sizeable role in the continuation of the diabolical process known as slavery and we must stop turning a blind eye to its prevalence and seek out alternatives that will not come at the expense of children trying to carve out a life for themselves.

 According to a company called Slave Free Chocolate, these larger corporations that produce chocolate, which have become a primary source of happiness in our country and around the world, are doing very little to ensure the wrong doings placed upon these innocent children are addressed and rectified. Hershey and Nestle are two companies that have acknowledged the harsh reality that is child labor and how they will attempt to limit their contributions to these farms that make a profit off of the backs of younglings due to slave labor. However, in the years following these announcements they have done nothing but prove that they are incapable of changing their business practices to a healthier alternative. Both corporations have been taken to court on a number of occasions in an attempt to uncover the truth behind their business dealings, as well as hold them accountable for negligence in regard to who they choose to do business with. Their contributions to the slave labor running rampant in third world countries like Ghana and Côte d’Ivoireare the reason these children are still fighting for their lives.

The salvaging alone for Cacao beans is not a simple process that your average adult could simply begin without the proper tools and some form of guidance. Yet children are being sent into the forest with sharp machetes and large sacks. They climb dangerously tall trees in an attempt to harvest the cacao pods and bring them back to their slavers so that they can begin farming for the cacao beans. They are rushed by their slavers to cut open these Cacao pods to collect the beans found inside, and the only way they can do this effectively is by using the machetes provided to them. Many children are injured during this process as the bean extraction from the plant requires them to hack open the pod with a machete. There is always a risk that skin and appendages could be taken and still these children partake in this dangerous task because they have no other choice. The market calls for a high demand of Cacao and forcing an abundance of children to produce a plethora of cacao is easier to do rather than hiring adults and paying them a set wage.

The question then becomes are we to blame for being complicit, considering the children are in another country and are not our primary concern because they are not citizens of the United States? So long as they continue to contribute to a service that is provided to us, who cares if we turn our heads in the other direction right? Personally, I feel we have failed these individuals simply because as a country we are considered a super power and we control the eb and flow of the overall market. So, while we have the power to course correct these injustices our demand for the same product presents us with a paradox that is almost impossible to rectify. This alone demonstrates how subconsciously we are complicit because we possess the ability to correct these injustices and yet we are the reason they exist. Not all countries have the liberties we possess here in the United States, and eventually we have to acknowledge the fact that the ease of access to resources in the U.S. has created the lives these children currently lead. Subconsciously, we have been groomed in a way that allows us to be comfortable with getting what we want despite the steps taken to get us there. To take it a step further, let us acknowledge how much food is experimented with here and how America’s irregular consumption of the same foods in different forms has had an inverse effect on the slave trade and by extension the children.

Despite popular belief cacao beans are not solely used to make chocolate. While there are a variety of chocolates that are crafted from the plant, it is also the reason we have certain drinks and alcoholic beverages such as Coffee and Brandy. Not to mention cacao powder, liquor, butter, jam, marmalade etc. are all resources produced from this one plant. Coffee which is a huge resource utilized by the American people is right up there with chocolate as a hot commodity item. Corporations like Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks have perfected their sales techniques to make coffee an adults signature “sweet treat.” Seasonal drinks like Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Peppermint Mochas drive the masses wild and selling them during the holidays means more work for the children.There are endless examples of how food has its properties modified to be made into something else useful, but for the sake of this post it illustrates why the cacao slave trade continues to make a sizeable profit. We have become codependent on cacao and the many forms it takes and in the end the ones paying the price are the children working to keep up with our demand for more of this popular resource. What is even more tragic is the fact that we do not have to support companies that make their profit off of the backs of innocent children when there are companies out there that have demonstrated a suitable alternative exists.

There are small companies and corporations that are willing to pay foreigners a livable wage in order to produce the same chocolate products that we love, without putting children in harm’s way. Corporations like Tony’s Chocolonely make it their mission to deliver the consumer a product that is manufactured free from slave labor and in doing so take the fight directly towards corporations like Hershey and Nestle who refuse to change their business practices. They are so proud of these accomplishments that they label their products “free of slave labor” to encourage the consumer to purchase their product over their competitors. One of the primary reasons this is done is the hope that this will encourage larger corporations like Nestle and Hershey to stop dealing under the table with those who continue to practice the use of slave trade with children on their farms. Once they begin to lose business perhaps this cruel individuals may change the way they hire and pay their workers to something a bit more legal.

Keeping all of this in mind, what role can we play in fighting the war against slave labor to ensure that the number of children inducted into this terrifyingly inhumane practice are safe from trafficking moving forward? For starters we must stop funding these mega corporations that are only in the business to make a profit, and refuse to purchase from them again until they present substantial evidence that they are no longer doing business with slavers. As difficult as that may seem, considering these chocolate companies are already so ingrained into our everyday lives, and we as a society are subconsciously unaware of our complicities’ that have led to the slave trades continuous growth, we owe it to the children whose livelihoods are being sacrificed for a profit to bring forth positive change. We should focus our efforts and fund businesses like Tony’s Chocolonely as they have presented us with a more viable alternative for foreign workers who help produce cacao. Livable wages, safer work environments and zero slave labor. Furthermore, we owe it to future generations of children who are raised in the United States and beyond to seek out a safer alternative for years to come. If we did not try to undo these wrongs, how can we look our kids in the eyes and gift them with a candy bar that another child halfway around the world sacrificed so much to make? To that end, no matter the cost we have to do better and it starts by holding everyone accountable including ourselves for past discretions. When I become a parent, I would like to look into my child’s eyes one day and imagine I am looking at the eyes of a child halfway around the world whose future does not look as bleak as it originally used to.

Works Cited:

Appiah, L. (2017, June 07). Slave-free chocolate: Not-so-guilty pleasure. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2017/06/02/world/tonys-chocolonely-slavery-free-chocolate/index.html

Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/

International Cocoa Organization. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.icco.org/faq/52-by-products/115-products-that-can-be-made-from-cocoa.html

Lampley, R. L. (2019, February 09). Child slave labor rampant in chocolate supply chain. Retrieved from https://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/commentary/article/Child-slave-labor-rampant-in-chocolate-supply-13602395.php

Law Suits. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.slavefreechocolate.org/doe-vs-nestle

Slave Free Chocolate. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.slavefreechocolate.org/

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