Chocolate has frequently been referred to as the, “Food of the God’s”. For chocolate lovers, the thought of this creamy rich confection invokes an emotion (or passion if you will) that makes it an essential part of the daily diet. Some, consuming it multiple times a day. We give chocolate as gifts for special occasions and profess our affection through ornate heart shaped boxes full of the decadent treat. According to Statista this tendency is not due to change any time soon, as the global chocolate confectionery market continues an upward trend and is projected to be valued at $187.05 billion U.S. dollars by the year 2026 (Statista, 2019).
Size of the chocolate confectionery market worldwide to 2026 (in billion U.S. dollars)
But what is the true price of chocolate commerce? For some, it comes at a significant cost, specifically the child laborer’s who work on cacao plantations around the world. While many chocolate manufacturer’s and worldwide humanitarian organizations have significantly increased their efforts to spotlight and reduce the utilization of child labor, slavery, and the practice of human trafficking – there is a long way to go. And some would argue that over the years, the value of labor and slaves has even diminished. Whereas at one time, “[i]n the old day’s slaves were expensive; you kept them for their whole lives, you took care of them. Today, they are cheap, there is a glut of slaves and when you’ve used them you throw them away if you don’t want them any more – they’re disposable.” (Off, 119) This is dark language to use taking into consideration that we are speaking of human lives, and too often – children. The use of words such as “glut” and “disposable” as terms to describe the value of a human life and its contribution to such a lucrative business is one that should make us take pause as conscientious consumers of cacao and chocolate products. The dark side of chocolate has far reaching repercussions that stretch far beyond the guilty calories in your Valentine’s day Whitman’s Sampler.
What has history taught us? For centuries, children have been used as slaves in the cacao trade. As a matter of fact, forced child labor has been recorded as far back as the 1800’s in cacao harvesting and cocoa production. The True History of Chocolate elucidates that the ethics of the chocolate trade have been flawed for too long. In their authoritative book, Coe and Coe enlighten us that the countries most involved in this shameful practice are the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) and Ghana – which (coincidentally?) are the top two cacao producing countries in the world. Here, millions of children have been trafficked over time to work “under terrible conditions… suffering from [the negative effects of] powerful pesticides…cutting themselves with the machetes that they must wield to open the pods.” (Coe and Coe, 264) Tragically, these children also lack quality medical care and schooling to better their health and to increase the potential for a better life.
The very topic of misuse of child labor was brought to the forefront of the media in the year 2000 when newspapers recorded that, “[t]rafficers preyed on children in Mali, promising riches on cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire”. Once children got to the farm, they survived on little food, little or no pay and endured regular beatings” (Ryan, 44) In her provocative and eye-opening book, “Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa” Orla Ryan describes in detail when Senator Tom Harkin, the then Democratic Senator from the State of Iowa visited an Ivoirian cocoa village. Struck by the conditions that families were working in: the lack of clean water, lack of health care, and lack of decent schools, the Senator commented that, “the contrast between the lives of these producers and the deep pockets of the chocolate companies such as Mars and Hershey’s is a clear injustice.” (Ryan, 44) Since then, the Harkin-Engel protocol (which was signed in 2001) has made progress in the efforts to reduce what is called one of “the worst forms of child labor” – but they have yet to hit the mark. According to the Cocoa Barometer of 2018, “[n]ot a single company or government is anywhere near reaching the sectorwide objective of the elimination of child labour, and not even near their commitments of a 70% reduction of child labour by 2020.” (Fountain et al., 3) Despite the cacao trade bourgeoning into a multi-billion-dollar industry, we cannot help but have a bitter taste in our mouth for the still sub-standard labor ethics employed around the world, but most significantly, in West Africa.
The problem cannot be ignored, and the cacao plantation is no place for a child. For many of us, who have not previously been exposed to the discussion of child labor abuses in the cacao and chocolate industry, “the picture of child labour…seem[s] at odds with the images of slavery and exploitation which abound on this subject in the public domain and on which the literature on unfree labor typically focusses.” (Berlan, 1088) This is due to the fact that “it is impossible to draw a clear and unambiguous line between ‘child work’ (the more acceptable forms of children’s work, which are relatively unharmful and in cases may even be beneficial) and ‘child labour’, the unacceptable, exploitative and harmful forms of children’s work.” (Berlan, 1090) Organizations such as the Food Empowerment Project and Green America are putting their time, energy and alliances behind the efforts to not only reduce the use of child labor – but to educate chocolate consumers on the horrific standards of the cacao industry. By labeling the use of children in the cacao commodity growing industry, “The Worst Form of Child Labor” the Food Empowerment Project claims that “in recent years, a handful of organizations and journalists have exposed the widespread use of child labor, and in some cases slavery, on cocoa farms in Western Arica. Since then, the industry has become increasingly secretive, making it difficult for reporters to not only access farms where human rights violations still occur, but to then disseminate this information to the public.” By calling our attention to the companies that take advantage of the largest supply of cocoa and making a direct connection to the child slavery problem, the FEP specifically names Hershey, Mars and Nestle as those that who should have the guiltiest conscience in the chocolate trade. Green America goes one step further by publishing a “Chocolate Scorecard” to illustrate to consumers the performance of chocolate manufacturers, taking into consideration rather or not they “have innovative programs and projects in place to address some of the underlying issues of child labor in cocoa.” (Green America)
By now, you should be asking the BIG question “What can consumers like me do to help?” and you may even have a bitter taste in your mouth for the chocolate industry that you did not have before reading this post. For many chocolate consumers and their conscience, it may be enough to bite into their favorite Endangered Species or Alter Ego brand chocolate bars and be guilt free – feeling that they have done their part and contributed SOMETHING by choosing what they deem to be an ethically sourced chocolate product. For others, we are angry and want to do something immediately that will change the trajectory in a more positive direction. So, what do you do? Perhaps you will pay more for a chocolate bar that’s packaging convinces you that the proceeds are going to help reduce child labor, slavery, or trafficking? Or perhaps you will emphatically denounce any chocolate grown in this region of the world and refuse to patronize any brand not making the grade on the “Chocolate Scorecard”? As Kristy Leissle points out in her thoughtful book Cocoa, the “oft-suggested idea of charging more for chocolate to ease farmer poverty reverses typical cause and effect, whereby higher cocoa prices drive higher chocolate prices.” (Leissle, 136) . Simply put– when the price of cocoa goes up, these farming regions are even more attractive due to the low labor rates; doing nothing more than increasing profit for chocolate makers. And for those of you that are done stomping your feet in remonstration, according to Leissle, “buying only cocoa from outside West Africa would do more harm than good” (Leissle, 136) as you would be punishing hard working West Africans that are dependent on the cacao trade for their livelihood.
But are we as consumers responsible for policing the global child labor problems of the chocolate industry? According to an esteemed group of experts working in collaboration between the International Labor Organization, the Labor Prosecutors Office of Brazil, and journalists with Papal Social, it can only be through collaboration between farmers, governments, and chocolate companies that we can address the variety of problems and conditions that exist in the chocolate supply chain globally. Through their working paper published in November of 2018, COCOA SUPPLY CHAIN Advances and Challenges Toward the Promotion of Decent Work: A Situational Analysis this group of experts (who have made their careers studying human rights in relation to labor and have developed methodology to measure and study the important issues of child labor – according to international and domestic law) shines a light on the fact that we need to promote the debate around the labor conditions in the labor supply chain.
This respected group of human rights advocates also illuminate the fact that consumers can have a significant impact on these efforts – and the good news is that there can be light at the end of the tunnel. There are many ways that we as consumers can support the cacao kids that are losing their childhood (and tragically, sometimes their lives) to the cocoa and chocolate industry. To get involved, here a few recommendations from them and other activists:
- Ask the big chocolate companies how they are going to address the global crisis of child labor. Elicit an immediate response, and ask them directly, “What are you going to do?”
- Be a conscientious consumer of agricultural goods. Consumers are a force, and consumers want transparency from the companies that they patronize and the products that they manufacture. Make the producers of chocolate be accountable for providing transparency in their supply chain.
- Be aware of how YOU can have an impact in what you do. Is the company that you work for ethically sourcing materials through their supply chain that support the efforts to reduce child labor either here in the United States or abroad? If you cannot answer this question, you have some homework to do…..
- Take action. The United Nations has sustainable development goals to eliminate the human rights violation of child labor by the year 2030. Educate yourself and get involved with one of the numerous organizations fighting every day that not only want -0 but need your donation or activism.
- Shop at retailers that support brands that are working to reduce child labor in the cacao trade. If you are unsure if your favorite store or market is making choices that you are aligned with in selecting their chocolate inventory – do not be afraid to ask. Many retailers have category managers that are well versed on what their store carries and why. If their selection is unsatisfactory, chocolate may not be the only category that they do not measure up in the area of ethics.
- Know what companies stand on the principle of taking responsibility to pay more for quality cacao so that they are fair to the farmers – and support them. At the same time, ask yourself if they are working to educate their consumer base to the global issue at hand. No doubt, this education is worth the investment as it will create more customers for their quality chocolate.
- Think global but act local. Talk to your State Representatives about their agenda for reducing child labor as it relates to trade facilitation and trade enforcement.
The “Food of the God’s” does not need to come at the cost of innocent lives around the world. Though chocolate has been studied academically and discussed politically, there are still significant gaps that each and every one of us can contribute to closing. So, the next time that you pick up your favorite chocolate confection, may the guilt be only on your lips and on your hips.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088–1100., doi:10.1080/00220388.2013.780041.
Borgen, Clint. “Child Labor to Make Chocolate.” The Borgen Project, Clint Borgen Http://Borgenproject.org/Wp-Content/Uploads/The_Borgen_Project_Logo_small.Jpg, 20 Mar. 2017, borgenproject.org/child-labor-to-make-chocolate/. https://borgenproject.org/child-labor-to-make-chocolate
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames and Hudson, 2013.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: Anatomy of an Industry. The New Press, 2014.
Ryan, Órla. Chocolate Nations Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2012.
“CHILD LABOUR IN COCOA.” ICI, cocoainitiative.org/our-work/child-labour-in-cocoa/. https://cocoainitiative.org/our-work/child-labor-cocoa
“Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa.” United States Department of Labor, 5 Sept. 2018, http://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/child-labor-cocoa.
“COCOA SUPPLY CHAIN IN BRAZIL – ADVANCES AND CHALLENGES TOWARD THE PROMOTION OF DECENT WORK: A Situational Analysis.” ICI, cocoainitiative.org/knowledge-centre-post/cocoa-supply-chain-in-brazil-advances-and-challenges-toward-the-promotion-of-decent-work-a-situational-analysis/. https://cocoainitiative.org/knowledge-centre-post/cocoa-supply-chain-in-brazil-advances-and-challenges-toward-the-promotion-of-decent-work-a-situational-analysis/
“End Child Labor in Cocoa.” Green America, http://www.greenamerica.org/end-child-labor-cocoa.
“Global Chocolate Confectionery Market 2017-2026 | Statistic.” Statista, http://www.statista.com/statistics/983554/global-chocolate-confectionery-market-size/.
Home, Cocoabarometer.org, http://www.cocoabarometer.org/Cocoa_Barometer/Home.html.
“Home.” Food Empowerment Project, foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/. https://foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/
“The Cocoa Route.” Vimeo, 3 May 2019, vimeo.com/332509945. https://vimeo.com/332509945