April 27, 2009

Chocolate Injustice

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The sweet taste of chocolate is something we probably all enjoy once in awhile, but chocolate is the cause of cruel and abusive treatment to one of the world’s most vulnerable populations. While child labor has been around since the dawn of civilization, the use of young labor is becoming an increasing problem in countries that harvest cocoa. Considering that chocolate is one of our most satisfying pleasures, cocoa is in high demand – and cheap labor is vital for maintaining low production costs for struggling farmers.

The serene landscape of the Ivory Coast in Africa is the largest supplier of cocoa, accounting for more than 43% of production. Consequently, the US Department of State estimates that more than 109,000 children in Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa industry work under “the worst forms of child labor,” and that some 10,000 are victims of human trafficking or enslavement. Among other cocoa producers are Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, and Cameroon. Child workers are forced to work long hour using machetes to harvest cacao pods from tall trees while facing brutal beatings if they do not perform at a fast speed. Further, the children walk dozens of miles each day in oppressive and potentially deadly heat to get to the farms. This eliminates opportunity for education and severely limits childhood development. As could be expected, nearly half of the population in Cote d’Ivoire is illiterate, placing children in a cycle of exploitation and poverty.

After intense scrutiny, chocolate producers had agreed to end child exploitation by 2005, but this date passed with unnoticeable change and the date was extended to July 2008. Still, companies such as Hershey, Nestle, and M&M/Mars have done little to end this inhumane situation and they continue to reap obscene profits. Thus, children continue to work on cocoa farms in hazardous tasks. “Many of these children work on family farms, the children of cocoa farmers who are so trapped in poverty have to make the hard choice to keep their children out of school to work”. Some parents are left with no choice but to sell their children in hopes that they will send their earnings home. However, most earn little or nothing for working more than 12 hours each day.

” Though he had worked countless days harvesting cocoa pods — 400 of which are needed to make a pound of chocolate — Diabate has never tasted the finished product. “I don’t know what chocolate is,” he told the press.

While it’s difficult to give up one of our most delicious desserts, we can help just by purchasing chocolate that is a little less “bitter”. This link (Warning: PDF) provides a list of chocolate suppliers from “bitter” to “sweet” with bitter representing the companies with the greatest use of child labor.