The Disovered but Hidden Usage of Child Labor in Chocolate Production

Introduction:

When thinking of chocolate and its production, one often thinks about cocoa and the ways in which it is harvested to make the chocolate bars that we all know and love. However, the narrative that is often left out is that of child labor and slavery that is entailed within production. Beginning in the late 1990’s the involvement of large corporations in child labor become publicized leading to a great number of documentaries and articles releasing evidence of child trafficking and labor(1). While this issue did not simply arise during this time period, it was something that was hidden and kept from the public for not only years prior but also years to come. Child labor has been deeply embedded into the world of chocolate seen through slavery and child human trafficking that Henry Nevinson recounts in the early 1900’s. When a family was appealing to an official in Belmonte in order, “to help pay off the debt, parents sold children into slavery… ‘so the matter stands, and the villagers must go on selling more and more of their wives and children that the white man’s greed may be satisfied’ Nevisnson wrote in disgust”(2). This is just one account of a journalist in the 1900’s that witnessed this, however many more began to come forward in the late 1990’s to early 2000s. 

Background of a Child’s Duty:

Many children who are surrounded by poverty are forced at a young age to either support their families through work or are sold into it. Child labor is of importance to to the chocolate industry because, “On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 per day, an income below the poverty line.  As a result, they often resort to the use of child labor to keep their prices competitive”(3). These children are often between the ages of 12 and 16, however the youngest reported was 5 years old. Their day consists of using chainsaws to clear the forest, machetes to cut bean pods from the cocoa trees (both of which are against international labor laws), and carrying the sacks of pods(4). While forced into this labor, children are also exposed to harsh conditions like poor nutrition, inadequate sleeping and living, and toxins from the industrial insecticide chemicals sprayed on the pods. 

Rules and Regulations:

While it took several years to expose child labor and trafficking, rules and protocols were soon to follow. This can be seen through the Harkin-Engel Protocol of 2001 which was, “a voluntary international agreement aimed at ending some of the worst forms of child labour”(5). Many debate whether or not this agreement had any effect on the situation at hand seeing that nothing changed after not only this promise by chocolate industries but also ones made in 2005 and 2010. It took a report by Tulane in 2015 detailing the worst forms of child labor for mass attention to be brought to the issue and for things to begin to change. Not only are companies like Nestle now in collaboration with companies like the International Cocoa Intiative (ICI) but Nestle has started the Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS)(6). These organizations still aren’t doing enough seeing that, “child labour remains at very high levels in the cocoa sector, with an estimated 2.1 million children working in cocoa ields in the Ivory Coast and Ghana alone”(7). Much will need to change in order children’s rights to be protected from large companies producing chocolate. 

Hidden Stories Exposed:

In order for this to happen transparency must be obtained, which is something that is still a fight today. Nestle has made significant steps towards this seen through the fact that they have been in collaboration with the Fair Labor Association (FLA) which forces them to publish a plan of action. This however is still not enough seeing that full access to stories and research is limited exemplified by The Washington Post discoveries. Whoriskey and Siegel went to the Ivory Coast interviewing children and while doing so they came across a boy Abou Traore who claimed to be nineteen, however, “when the farmer is distracted, Abou crouches and with his finger, writes a different answer in the gray sand:15”(8). This shows the ways in which these farms try to hide the facts and details in order to keep their business. He also stated that he came here to go to school but hadn’t been in five years. The problem as explained is that, “nearly 20 years after pledging to eradicate child labor, chocolate companies still cannot identify the farms where all thier cocoa comes from, let alone whether child labor was used in producing it”(9). With the new deadline pushed to 2020 (this year) there is still no possible way for child labour to be completely eradicated, leaving children under hashing conditions stuck in a life they have no control over. With this being said there needs to be a call to all consumers making such inequality and injustice known in order for change to be made and a better future for these children. 

Footnotes:

  1. Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3 (2015): 51. https://doi.org/10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.
  2. Satre, Lowell J. “Henry W. Nevinson and Modern Slavery.” In Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, 5–6. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005.
  3. “Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Food Empowerment Project, foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/.
  4. “Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Food Empowerment Project, foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/.
  5. Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3 (2015): 51 . https://doi.org/10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.
  6. Fountain, Antonie, and Friedel Huetz-Adams. “Cocoa Barometer 2018.” VOICE Network. Accessed March 25, 2020. https://www.voicenetwork.eu/cocoa-barometer/.
  7. Fountain, Antonie, and Friedel Huetz-Adams. “Cocoa Barometer 2018.” VOICE Network. Accessed March 25, 2020. https://www.voicenetwork.eu/cocoa-barometer/.
  8. Whoriskey, Peter, and Rachel Siegel. “Hershey, Nestle and Mars Won’t Promise Their Chocolate Is Free of Child Labor.” The Washington Post. WP Company, June 5, 2019. shorturl.at/zCHN2
  9. Whoriskey, Peter, and Rachel Siegel. “Hershey, Nestle and Mars Won’t Promise Their Chocolate Is Free of Child Labor.” The Washington Post. WP Company, June 5, 2019. shorturl.at/zCHN2

Multimedia sources:

“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Food Empowerment Project, foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/.

Nestlé. “Tackling Child Labor”. Filmed [December 2019]. Youtube video, 2:49. Published [December 10, 2019]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hws6TlSNcj0

Whoriskey, Peter, and Rachel Siegel. “Hershey, Nestle and Mars Won’t Promise Their Chocolate Is Free of Child Labor.” The Washington Post. WP Company, June 5, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/business/hershey-nestle-mars-chocolate-child-labor-west-africa/.

Scholarly sources:

Fountain, Antonie, and Friedel Huetz-Adams. “Cocoa Barometer 2018.” VOICE Network. Accessed March 25, 2020. https://www.voicenetwork.eu/cocoa-barometer/.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3 (2015): 37-60 . https://doi.org/10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

Satre, Lowell J. “Henry W. Nevinson and Modern Slavery.” In Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, 5–6. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005.

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