In school they told me slavery was abolished in the United States of America in 1865 through the 13th amendment. They told me that the entire British Empire abolished slavery in 1834. That is what they told me. They gave a young girl the sweet thought that humanity was able to surpass that dark point in history, giving hope for a better future - it’s a thought as sweet as chocolate. When they told me that, I believed them. I indulged in the sweet taste of chocolate; little did I know, chocolate has a bitter side too. Little did I know, that with every bite, I was contributing to continuous slave labor in Africa.
The term slavery has several historical contexts, but current slavery in the chocolate industry involves the same core human rights violations as other forms of slavery in the past (Food Empowerment Project). The cocoa industry violates human rights by forcing slaves to work without pay, work while sick, and work with an insufficient amount of food (Food Empowerment Project). This slave labor is enforced by means of physical violence and imprisonment to prevent escape (Food Empowerment Project). Slavery and child labor on cocoa farms has been widely exposed over the past years by a few commendable organizations and journalists, particularly the documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation (Food Empowerment Project).
West African countries, especially Ghana and the Ivory Coast, supply more than seventy percent of the world's cocoa (Food Empowerment Project). This cocoa is sold to companies such as Nestle, Mars, and Hershey (The Daily Beast, 2015). Worldwide demand for chocolate has fostered the creation of these transnational, multi-billion dollar companies. Entrenched in the capitalist system, these companies seek cheap labor which is found through child and slave labor in Africa (The Daily Beast, 2015). Local traffickers, who are also seeking profit, give false hope to impoverished families by telling them that cocoa farms pay well and are a good environment for children (Food Empowerment Project). This leads families to send their children away with the traffickers and most likely never see them again (Food Empowerment Project). Sometimes, they are even sold to traffickers or farm owners by their own relatives for the same reasons coupled with a lack of awareness of the horrible working environment and absence of education on cocoa farms (Food Empowerment Project). Even worse, traffickers often abduct the children, and without a goodbye, they just disappear (Food Empowerment Project).
“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” says Aly Diabate, a former cocoa slave, when explaining how the children are forced to cut cocoa bean pods from trees using machetes, pack the pods into sacks that weigh more than 100 pounds, and drag them through the forest to wherever they are told (Food Empowerment Project). Moreover, the children are forced to spray the pods with toxic agricultural chemicals without wearing any protective gear (Food Empowerment Project). Diabate continues “The beatings were a part of my life. I had seen others who tried to escape. When they tried, they were severely beaten (The Daily Beast, 2015).” In the documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation, slaves are interviewed on this topic (The Daily Beast, 2015). They graphically explain their treatment, showing the scars on their bodies and imitating the beatings: how they are first stripped completely naked, then tied up, and finally battered with whips, belts, feet (kicking), and hands (punching and slapping) (The Daily Beast, 2015). If the slaves tried to escape their horrid conditions and were caught, they were beat even more severely, and their feet were cut with razors (BBC, 2002). Even when they manage to escape, there is almost no way for them to break the poverty cycle with no education, and there is little hope of them returning to their families who they have long since been separated from (Food Empowerment Project).
Despite exposure of the chocolate industries’ role in child labor, slavery, human trafficking, and so on, they have not taken any effective steps in fixing the problem. Rather, they propagandize images of happy workers, as seen in the image taken from the Nestle website above, to create the impression that the working conditions are up to par. Chocolate companies have all the power in their hands to end this slave labor by paying cocoa farmers a regular wage and monitoring what is occurring on cocoa farms (The Daily Beast, 2015). It would be a tiny dent in their profit to alleviate the slave labor problem, yet it seems to be of no concern. Instead, profits are allocated towards advertising how delicious their chocolate is (The Daily Beast, 2015). Hershey’s, the largest chocolate manufacturer in North America, does not even admit to its wrongdoings and refuses to release any information about where they source their cocoa (this lack of transparency clearly suggests unethical means of production and is typical of many chocolate companies). When documentaries first sparked outrage on the topic, the chocolate industry promised to eradicate these slave practices by 2005, to avoid the alternative, which would have been the US government enforcing a new slave-free labelling system (The Daily Beast, 2015). This agreement to eradicate slave labor by 2005 was named The Harkin-Engel Protocol (more commonly known as Cocoa Protocol) and was signed in September 2001 by eight chocolate producing companies including Nestle, Mars, and Hershey (The Daily Beast, 2015). When 2005 rolled around, slavery was far from being eradicated, and an extension was granted until 2008 (The Daily Beast, 2015). By 2008, the situation was the same - slavery in the chocolate industry was still just as rampant (The Daily Beast, 2015). The new deadline is 2020 for the eradication of slavery in the cocoa industry yet there are more slaves than ever before, almost all of whom have never even tasted chocolate (The Daily Beast, 2015).
As a consumer, although I know I, as one person, cannot make a large difference, I personally do not want to be a contributor to slave labor. In this case, it is valuable to know that I, and other consumers alike, have no sure way of knowing whether our chocolate involved slave or child labor at all (Food Empowerment Project). Fair trade certifications and the Rainforest Alliance Certification for example, despite their claims, have been exposed by journalists to be using illegal child labor as well (Food Empowerment Project). The best option may be to consume chocolate that comes from cocoa farms in Latin America-the world’s second biggest chocolate exporter (Food Empowerment Project). Currently, neither slavery nor child labor have been documented on Latin American cocoa farms (Food Empowerment Project). This is no guarantee that it does not exist, but it is the best bet as a consumer for avoiding contributing to slave labor, excluding cutting out chocolate altogether.
That may seem extreme, unnecessary, useless. When one of the slaves was asked about what they would say to the billions who eat chocolate worldwide, he replied “They enjoy something I suffered to make; I worked hard for them but saw no benefit. They are eating my flesh (The Daily Beast, 2002).” Is it still extreme, unnecessary, and useless? The empty promises and lavish advertising by companies turning a blind eye is. However, the noble action of even just one consumer, who may influence many more, is most definitely not extreme, unnecessary, or useless. There is no doubt that consumers like us are to blame at least partially. We do not question prices, unless they’re too high, when we really should be questioning why they are so low. We have made the world an ironic place: we raise money for charities, where 40% or more of donations go to the organization instead of the cause and the money is raised by selling chocolates door to door or bake sales with chocolate chip cookies and brownies, in plastic containers, hurting the same people and the same world we are ignorantly pretending to save. Imagine a world where the truth was exposed everywhere, not only would there still be pictures of rotting lungs on cigarette packages, but also abused animals on circus pamphlets, child labor and suicide on your iPhone , slavery on your chocolate bar… it’s pessimistic, but I think we would still consume. We would give in to what we believe is the unavoidable. This would be a world where I am not told false “facts” in school that later turn out to be not so true. I would no longer have the excuse that “they told me slavery was abolished.” However, despite being exposed to the truth I could still continue to consume chocolate. In fact, horrifically but honestly, I ate a chocolate chip cookie while writing this. I know, it’s horrible, and it is hard but I am willing to admit it because I think it proves a powerful point. Ever since I began writing this I have been trying to cut chocolate out of my diet completely. It is much harder than you’d think, especially during the holidays when a piece of cake is cut for you before you even ask for it, or when you’re receiving gifts of Ferrero Rochers at every family friends’ house, or when a plate of chocolate chip cookies sits in front of you on the table while you write this week's Grassroots article. However, this mindset of continuing to consume chocolate because your own actions won’t make a difference is easy but evil and destructive. It is the same mindset of the chocolate companies who keep up their inhumane practices not because they don’t know that it is wrong or because they are not aware, but simply because they believe it is what they need to do in a money-hungry world to keep up with competition and maintain profits. I am not a perfect person or a perfect consumer. Despite my knowledge of this and many other cruelties, I continue to consume and contribute indirectly to horrible and inhumane practices. I wish I could but I can’t be one to tell you what to do when I can’t even tell myself what to do, but at least I hope I have shed some light on the bitter side of chocolate. I hope that with more awareness the world will maybe one day develop into a place where we’ll learn the truth in school or on packages, and maybe we will actually take action, and one day chocolate will be sweet again.
"Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry." Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry. Food Empowerment Project. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.
"Chocolate Dessert Recipes for All!" Hersheys.com. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.
Free The Slaves. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.
Haglage, Abby. "Lawsuit: Your Candy Bar Was Made By Child Slaves." The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.
"Meeting the Chocolate Slaves." BBC News. BBC, 13 June 2002. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.