The Ivory Coast produces 40% of the world’s cocoa, and its beans are mixed into almost every brand of mass-produced chocolate. But did you know that much of that cocoa is harvested by children as slave labor, held captive and forced to work against their will?
In 2000 and 2001, British and American journalists documented the enslavement of adolescent and teenage boys on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. Most of the children come from Mali, Ivory Coast’s poorer neighbor. Traffickers entice naive adolescents and teenagers with the promise of good jobs in the Ivory Coast. Even the prospect of buying a new bicycle or modest scooter can motivate a boy to sign up for a season of hard work. Later, once separated from their community or others who speak their language, the children are sold to cocoa farmers. Some farmers pay children a small sum at the end of the cocoa season. Some do not. And some farmers exploit the children’s vulnerability, forcing them to perform long, hard, dangerous work, with only minimal food and shelter. Some beat and threaten those who try to escape, locking the children in sheds or huts at night.
West Africa supplies 70% of the world’s cocoa, mostly to Hershey’s, Mars, Nestlé, Cadbury, Cargill, ADM, and other global corporations. And while a handful of these western corporations control approximately 85% of Ivorian cocoa exports, and could take a pro-active lead in combating slavery practices, few have done anything substantial. Even 2001′s hopeful Harkin-Engel Protocol, in which large-scale cocoa industry players promised to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, has been watered down and produced little effect.
Consumers, though, can make an impact—by buying Fair Trade Certified products. Fair Trade Certified cocoa and chocolates are sourced from eleven origins, including Ivory Coast, Ghana, and numerous Central and South American countries. Under Fair Trade standards, the farmers and co-operatives abide by key covenants of the International Labor Organization, including those forbidding inappropriate child labor and forced labor. Fair Trade also offers critical protections for workers, and directly addresses the underlying problem of low cocoa prices and chronic poverty among cocoa farmers. And Fair Trade’s criteria also specify the practice of sustainable agriculture that limits the use of agrochemicals.
For us at Global Gourmet and NewGreenBasics.com, our favorite chocolates just happen to be Fair Trade Certified, and we’ve added a new company to the list: Equal Exchange, which was founded in 1986, and is the oldest, largest for-profit Fair Trade company in the U.S. Besides sinfully rich cocoa and chocolate bars, they offer organic coffee, tea, and sugar produced by democratically run farmer co-ops in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The company takes an active roll in humanitarian issues, and the story above is adapted from an article that appeared in their Spring 2007 newsletter. (Read the original “Ivory Coast cacao (Ivory Coast cacao)”:http://www.equalexchange.com/child-labor-in-the-cocoa-industry article).
A list of Fair Trade Certified companies, from chocolate makers and distributors, to tea, sugar, rice, vanilla and other ingredients, can be found at “Fair Trade Certified’s Licensed Partners (Fair Trade Certified’s Licensed Partners)”:http://www.transfairusa.org/content/certification/licensees2.php#cocoa .