Chances are, the Easter bunnies, eggs, and other chocolate confections that line store shelves this time of year were produced using child slavery. In Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics and the Ethics of Business, author Lowell Joseph Satre describes an industry that makes use of up to 15,000 child slaves in Cote d’Ivoire alone, a small fraction of the child-dominated workforce involved in cocoa production in West Africa.
The Problem with Chocolate
Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest producer of cocoa. Cocoa plantations in the region are usually small, family-run affairs where children work alongside their parents out of economic necessity. In Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet, author Carol Off explains the difficulty of assessing the actual number of children involved in forced labor in the region, as the sight of children working in agricultural settings is a common one. Taking issues of language barriers and xenophobia into account, it is nearly impossible for outsiders to get a clear understanding of the dynamics at play on a typical cocoa farm.
However, the US Department of Labor report The Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor cites that a significant number of children involved in the workforce are trafficked from neighboring countries such as Mali and Burkina Fasso. Child workers are bought and sold under the guise of employment contracts. With no family connections in the area and virtually no access to intervention programs, the child laborers are at the mercy of their employers.
According to the same report, this often means children are forced to work under hazardous conditions, spraying pesticides, clearing land, working with machetes and carrying heavy loads. Additionally, Carol Off asserts that it is not uncommon for children to receive no compensation for their labor, and to endure physical punishments if they try to escape or do not meet their work requirements. This is slavery.
The Solution: Fair Trade Easter Chocolate
It may seem a likely solution to boycott chocolate altogether this Easter due to the human rights violations inherent in the industry. Unfortunately, the extreme poverty of the region means that most of these practices take place out of economic necessity. When international cocoa prices are low, farmers cannot simply change industries. Instead, they are forced to find ever-cheaper ways of producing their product. All too often, this includes reliance on forced labor in addition to traditional family-based agriculture.
Boycotting the cocoa industry will only serve to lower the price paid to farmers for their cocoa, and will only further deteriorate the living and working conditions of children on cocoa plantations. To make a difference, the best bet is for consumers to support fair-trade efforts in the chocolate industry.
The fair trade movement is making strides toward enabling cocoa farmers to make a living by ethical means. Fair trade cocoa farmers are given access to credit, so they are no longer at the mercy of fluctuating world cocoa prices, and are given a fair price for their product. In return, they submit to third-party inspections to ensure safe and legal working conditions for all cocoa workers.
Finding Fair Trade Easter Chocolate
Transfair USA is a nonprofit, third-party organization that certifies fair trade products for labeling in the United States. Their website lists companies that offer fair trade certified products that consumers can enjoy with a clear conscience. The same organization in Canada offers a tool for locating fair trade retailers based on postal code.
The problems inherent in the cocoa industry are not limited to chocolate. Many luxury items, such as coffee, tea and sugar, share the same dark side as chocolate. As shocking as it may be for consumers of such products, well-intentioned boycotts will not solve the problem. These issues arise as a result of complex interactions between economics, culture and education. By supporting companies that are acting with a global conscience, consumers can be part of the solution while still enjoying the sweet satisfaction of their favorite treats.