The bitter truth about chocolate and child labor

The demand for chocolate candy has given rise to child labor in Africa to the point of being a human rights crisis. UConn students and staff designed an exhibit that illustrates the real third-world costs of consuming chocolate. (Eric Wang/The Daily Campus)

Chocolate: the thing many children hope will fill their stockings, wait in hidden Easter eggs and weigh down their trick-or-treating bags. What we didn’t know as children was that children were harvesting the cocoa used to make the treats we longed for.  

“The Hidden Costs of Chocolate: How Child Labor Became a Human Rights Crisis” opened on Tuesday afternoon in the Thomas J. Dodd Center. The exhibition’s narrative of corporate greed, consumerism and human suffering is delivered through graphic posters displaying shocking statistics, historical information, forms of advocacy and the photographs of activist and filmmaker Robin Romano.

Tyrese Fenty, a second-semester allied health major, said the design of the posters with dramatic statistics and real life photos of child workers show how serious the situation is.

“You can see this is a crisis and that it’s a serious situation from the information that’s provided,” Fenty said.

Associate professor in the history department Fiona Vernal has directed the project through classes she has offered about child labor abuses in the cocoa harvesting industry. The classes were formed to give students the experience of working with the Dodd Center resources.

Students in the classes chose to highlight Romano not just because his foundation visited UConn and was looking for ways to get involved, but also because Romano exposed cocoa harvesting-related human rights violations in his film “The Dark Side of Chocolate” released in the early 2000s.

Tahreem Ali, a sixth-semester finance and human rights major, took one of Vernal’s classes and continued to work with the exhibition team afterward. Ali said she took the class because she is passionate about raising awareness regarding child labor.

“With all of the things that we use, we should know where they come from. I would personally feel awful eating chocolate because children’s rights are violated in its making,” Ali said. “I don’t believe that consumers should buy goods if they’re made at the hands of children, because it’s not right.”

Ali said she believes consumers should know where the cocoa in chocolate comes from because chocolate is in many products and many people consume these products.

“The primary reason now is who doesn’t eat chocolate?” Ali said. “This is one of the products that really touches our lives,” Ali said. “I don’t think that we spend a lot of time thinking about what’s in these products. Where did the cocoa come from? It’s one of these things that is kind of ever present in our lives.”

Ali said she feels this exhibition is important because oftentimes, human rights researchers feel there is little they can do about this industry, but simply being a conscious consumer can have a big impact.

“Chocolate has become so successful at being marketed at young children, and I think this is one of the ways in which we can talk to young people about being a responsible consumer,” Ali said.

Jenasia Shuler, a second-semester chemistry major, said she finds the production of exhibitions like this to be important for preventing child labor in the future.

“Work like this is important because you need somebody to advocate for what’s going on in order to stop it, because if no one knows about what’s going on, then things like this just get swept under and people continue to get harmed,” Shuler said.


Alex Taylor is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexis.taylor@uconn.edu.