The Dark Side of Chocolate

Those of you who know me (or who read my blog regularly) know that I LOVE chocolate.  It’s right up there with fried potatoes and coffee for me.  Melty, gooey, creamy, sweet-and-slightly-bitter chocolate!  I like good quality chocolate, but I’ll take anything I can get.  Or at least that’s how it’s always been.

How is it that I did not know before now about the dark side of chocolate?  I’m not talking about how chocolatey treats expand your hips and thighs.  I’m talking about the precious cocoa bean and its link to child slavery in Africa.  

Slave traders are trafficking young children from their homes and selling them into slavery to work on cocoa bean farms in West Africa.  The kids are lured and kidnapped from bus stations or areas where they are begging from food and forced to work against their will.  The children, generally ranging from ages 12-16, endure inhumane conditions and extreme abuse so that American and European chocolate companies can buy at a lower price. Sadder even, is the fact that not all of these children are kidnapped.  According to a documentary released by BBC in 2000, hundreds of thousands of children are actually sold by their parents for next to nothing.  In the fields, they work up to 100 hours a week without pay and they are abused and barely fed.  If they try to escape, they are beaten nearly to death.  The work requires children to use sharp knives and machetes and exposes them to hazardous chemicals (pesticides), according to the International Labor Office. 

UNICEF estimates that there are nearly half a million children working on cocoa farms across Ivory Coast.

CNN has launched what they call the Freedom Project in an attempt to end modern-day slavery through bringing issues like these to light, giving a voice to the victims, and making the media more aware.  Their site explains that over a decade ago, US lawmakers took action to end child labor on cocoa farms.  The “Cocoa Protocol” was introduced and signed in 2001.  This legislation required a labeling system for chocolate that caused major concern for chocolate companies.  They compromised by agreeing that companies could volunteer to certify their chocolate as “child-labor-free” on the label (meaning that companies who couldn’t do so would certainly be targeted with negative media attention).  The legislation has been changed and deadlines pushed back several times since then.  Unfortunately it’s hard to say whether much good has been done.  Civil war on the Ivory Coast from 2002-2004 has made it difficult for exporters and manufacturers to eliminate child labor.

So how can you be sure your chocolate is was produced slave free?  Although ¾ of the world’s cocoa is grown in Africa, none of the organic chocolate is grown there.  So if your chocolate is labeled organic, fair trade, or was sourced from anywhere other than Ghana or the Ivory Coast, then it’s slave free according to SlaveFreeChocolate.org. 

According to FairChocolate.org, some of the major companies that knowingly use chocolate produced by slave labor are Hershey’s, M&M/Mars, Nestle, Kraft, Toblerone, and Hauser.

Sources and additional reading:
http://www.globalexchange.org/fairtrade/cocoa/raisethebar
http://slavefreechocolate.org/
http://www1.american.edu/ted/chocolate-slave.htm
http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/12/chocolates-child-slaves/
http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/19/child-slavery-and-chocolate-all-too-easy-to-find/

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