Slavery in the Chocolate Industry
Chocolate is a product of the cacao bean which grows primarily in the tropical climates of West Africa and Latin America. The cacao bean is more commonly referred to as cocoa, so that is the term we will use throughout. Two West African countries, Ghana and the Ivory Coast, supply 75% of the world’s cocoa market. The cocoa they grow and harvest is sold to a variety of chocolate companies, including some of the largest in the world.
In recent years, a handful of organizations and journalists have exposed the widespread use of child labor, and in some cases slavery, on West African cocoa farms.[2,3] Since that time, the industry has become increasingly secretive, making it difficult for reporters to not only access farms where human rights violations still occur, but to then disseminate this information to the public. For example, in 2004 a journalist was kidnapped and remains missing today. More recently, three journalists from a daily newspaper were detained by government authorities in the Ivory Coast after publishing an article about government corruption related to the cocoa industry. The farms of West Africa supply cocoa to international giants such as Hershey’s, Mars and Nestlé – revealing the industry’s direct connection to child labor, human trafficking and slavery.
chocolate_content1The Worst Forms of Child Labor
In West Africa, cocoa is a commodity crop grown primarily for export. As the chocolate industry has grown over the years, so has the demand for cheap cocoa. Today, cocoa farmers barely make a living selling the beans and often resort to the use of child labor in order to keep their prices competitive.
The children of West Africa are surrounded by intense poverty and most begin working at a young age to help support their family. Some children end up on the cocoa farms because they need work and they are told the pay is good. Other children are “sold” by their own relatives to traffickers or to the farm owners, and it has also been documented that traffickers often abduct the young boys from small villages in neighboring African countries, such as Burkina Faso and Mali.
Once they have been taken to the cocoa farms, the children may not see their families for years, if ever. When a child is delivered to the farm by a family member, that relative collects a sum of money either up front or at the end of an agreed duration of labor. Unfortunately, the relatives do not realize that the children will be exposed to a dangerous work environment and deprived of an education.
Most of the children are between the ages of 12-16, but children as young as 7 have been filmed working on the farms. Some only stay for a few months, while others end up working on the cocoa farms through adulthood.
A child’s workday begins at sunrise and ends in the evening. The children climb the cocoa trees and cut the bean pods using a machete. These large, heavy, dangerous knives are the standard tools for children on the cocoa farms. Once the bean pods have been cut from the trees, the children pack the pods into large sacks and carry or drag them through the forest. “Some of the bags were taller than me. It took two people to put the bag on my head. And when you didn’t hurry, you were beaten.” - Aly Diabate, former cocoa slave.
Holding a single large pod in one hand, the children strike the pod with the machete and pry it open with the tip of the blade, exposing the cocoa beans. Each strike of the machete has the potential to severely cut a child’s fingers or hand. Virtually every child has scars on the hands, arms, legs or shoulders from accidents with the machete.
In addition to the hazards of using a machete, children are also commonly exposed to agricultural chemicals on the West African cocoa farms. Tropical regions such as the Ivory Coast consistently have to deal with prolific insect populations and choose to spray the pods with large amounts of...
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