It’s National Chocolate Day, But Child Slavery Still Happens
Why we can’t forget about child labor in West Africa
In honor of National Chocolate Day, it’s important to recognize that cocoa beans are sometimes harvested by child labor and that this can be stopped by supporting ethical producers.
For example, agricultural workers from Mali brought a child labor lawsuit against Nestlé food corporation in 2005.
The workers said that they were captured in Mali, held against their will, and forced to work for no pay on farms where Nestlé: sourced its cocoa.
Nestlé claimed to have no knowledge of this misconduct, but as investigations continued, the lawsuit alleged that the company did in fact know, and even paid farmers to do whatever needed to be done to reduce costs.
The case reached the U.S. Supreme court where it was decided Nestle should be tried for wrongdoing.
Many children in West Africa are unable to go to school and instead begin handling machetes and collecting cocoa beans from a very young age. This pattern of exploitation stems from deep poverty.
Since the allegations, virtually every major chocolate distributer has expanded its sustainability programs in order to secure child labor laws and some progress has been made.
A plan called CocoaAction, established in 2014, aims to reach over 300,000 farmers in Ivory Coast and Ghana. The plan involves the creation of training programs that aim to boost productivity and create better conditions for farmers.
Unfortunately, a lot still has to be done.
Filmmakers interviewed young boys in Ivory Coast for a documentary that aired on BBC. They asked one boy what he thought about the people around the world eating the chocolate he was responsible for helping to produce.
“They are enjoying something that I suffered to make,” the boy answered. “They are eating my flesh.”
As of March 2016, 2.1 million West African children were involved in the difficult and dangerous work of harvesting cocoa to produce chocolate. Meanwhile, seventy percent of the world’s cocoa is grown in West Africa, which means that multinational companies have significant sway — they can help to create better working conditions.
The big chocolate makers have promised to put an end to child labor, but theses promises are not reflecting the realities.
“It is clearly a complex problem that has its roots in poverty, and rural poverty no less. And if the problem is rooted in poverty, then the solution, in a way, is as complex as poverty eradication,” Nick Weatherill, executive director of the International Cocoa Initiative, a nonprofit funded by major chocolate makers said. “And in the grand scheme of things, you know, 15 years on a journey of poverty eradication isn’t actually that long.”
Chocolate is delicious and comforting, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of other people. There are plenty of chocolate brands that insist on fair working conditions for the harvesters of chocolate. By supporting them, you can help end child slavery.