The ‘Chocolate Slaves’

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The majority of slaves are children, unwittingly sold into the trade by families with no money to feed them or stolen from neighboring countries. The issue gained momentary prominence in 2001 from the Harkin-Englel Protocol, a voluntary public-private agreement which developed a timeline for implementing a “No child slavery” certification.  Photo courtesy of    @pablomerchanm    from    Unsplash.com   .

The majority of slaves are children, unwittingly sold into the trade by families with no money to feed them or stolen from neighboring countries. The issue gained momentary prominence in 2001 from the Harkin-Englel Protocol, a voluntary public-private agreement which developed a timeline for implementing a “No child slavery” certification. Photo courtesy of @pablomerchanm from Unsplash.com.

Reports of worker exploitation for the production of Western goods is distressingly normalized, and an exceptionally shocking example is the child labor present in the chocolate industry. 

Chocolate comes from the cacao bean, a crop grown in tropical climates. Around 70% of the world’s cocoa supply comes from the Ivory Coast, where slave trade still occurs for the chocolate industry as it did centuries ago. The majority of slaves are children, unwittingly sold into the trade by families with no money to feed them or stolen from neighboring countries.

Child labor in the chocolate industry is an tragically obscure and horrific instance of slavery. The issue gained momentary prominence in 2001 from the Harkin-Englel Protocol, a voluntary public-private agreement which developed a timeline for implementing a “No child slavery” certification. The deadline for that was on July 1, 2005. Now, despite being 15 years overdue, that goal is far from being met. 

How can any other outcome have been expected? There is little organization in big chocolate corporations like Mars, maker of M&M’s and Milky Way, Hershey’s and Nestle. None of these companies can identify where over half their cocoa comes from; if the farms where cocoa comes from cannot be identified, then the role of slavery cannot be determined. Even third-party organizations like Fairtrade and the Rainforest Alliance, which supposedly guarantee ethically-produced goods, do not have thorough certification guidelines regarding child labor. 

There has never been a method in place to understand the scale of the issue. In fact, Timothy S. McVoy, Vice President of the World Cocoa Foundation stated that “the real magnitude of child labor in the cocoa supply chain and how to address the phenomenon were poorly understood” when they agreed to the Harkin-Engel Protocal in 2001. Without clear information, no first steps can be taken.

Another major barrier is that companies feel little need to commit to putting a stop to slavery because chocolate corporations have no economic reasons to do so. They have invested little financial or productive energy into fulfilling their promises made two decades ago. For example, the industry makes an estimated $103 billion annually, but spent only $150 million to address the issue over 18 years. This represents 0.008% of their profits. It is clear there has been no genuine effort put into trying to put a stop to slavery for two decades.

Companies have no incentive to be more dedicated to their promises from 2001. The protocol was voluntary, so there have been no legal repercussions for failure, but when human lives and rights are on the line, failure is not an option. As consumers, we are the key determiners of industries. Without any action over two decades, there is no reason to expect that anything would change without prompting. In other words, we must provide the incentive that the chocolate corporations do not have. It is unfair that this responsibility exists, but so long we support unethical chocolate, we are contributing to slave trade practices. 

I truly love chocolate, but the scale of child labor and slavery inherent in its production is inseparable from the chocolate. A small Dutch company known as Tony’s Chocolonely attempts to pay cocoa farmers a living wage with the hope that alleviating poverty would make farmers less desperate and able to pay for their childrens’ education. 

“Nobody needs chocolate … It’s a gift to yourself or someone else. We think it’s absolute madness that for a gift that no one really needs, so many people suffer,” Paul Schoemaker, a Tony’s company executive said.

That does not necessarily mean that consumer’s stop buying chocolate. I would certainly struggle to do that. It does, however, mean that people should take a brief moment to research brands beyond labels like Fairtrade and the Rainforest Alliance. Many smaller companies are actively transparent or working to be transparent about their efforts, and this information only takes a few minutes to find. While ethically-sourced chocolate may come with a more expensive tag, the cost is undeniably worth it.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Pexels.com.

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Aarushi Nohria is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at aarushi.nohria@uconn.edu.

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