One night a year it is socially acceptable to dress up as something or someone else and knock on a stranger’s door asking for candy. Children carry around their pillowcases gathering all of the candy that they can physically hold. Then comes the best part– dumping your candy on the floor and seeing everything that you got from the night. The best was always the king-size Hersey’s Chocolate bars, Snickers, Milky Way, Mars Bar, and many more. As American children are getting stomachaches from all of the candy they are consuming, other children particularly in West Africa, are slaving to harvest the necessary cocoa beans.
To put chocolate consumption into perspective, Americans purchase nearly 90 million pounds of chocolate, which makes Halloween the leading holiday in chocolate utilization. $1.9 billion worth of candy is sold during the week leading up to Halloween; of which $1.2 billion is chocolate and only $680 million is sugar (Thompson). Clearly, chocolate is very popular in the United States, yet how many of these consumers realize the amount of sweat and pain that went into the production of these delicious candy bars?
West Africa produces two-thirds of all cocoa beans exported to manufacture chocolate. In particular, the Ivory Coast supplies 30% of cocoa produced in the world at 1.22 million tons (Thompson). Prior to the 1970s, the cocoa industry in West Africa was almost nonexistent, however by the early 2000s it has become one of the largest players in the market. Over time large chocolate producers such as Hersey’s, Nestle, and Mars have bought Ivorian cocoa to produce its chocolate products. These large corporations have imported much of the cocoa beans, which support the Ivory Coast and its economy. However, this support encourages the Ivory Coast to continue the poor ways in which they manage their cocoa fields.
Recently, these poor conditions have been discovered and made known to the general public. The details that describe the way life on these fields have left people astounded; yet we still buy an abundant amount of chocolate. The children of West Africa are enclosed by intense poverty and begin working at an extremely young age. Some of these children work on the cocoa farms to help support their families, while some relatives sell their children to traffickers for various sums of money. In addition, it has been documented that some traffickers even abduct the young children from neighboring villages (Slavery in the Chocolate Industry). Once the children have been taken to the cocoa farms they may not ever see their families again.
The general workday of a child on cocoa farms consists of waking up at sunrise and climbing cocoa trees to cut down the bean pods. The children use a dangerous knife called a machete to do so. Once the bean pods are on the ground, they have to pack the pods into large sacks and carry them through the forest (Slavery in the Chocolate Industry). “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 (Raghavan). Many children have scars on their hands, arms, shoulders, and legs from machete accidents. To add to the terrible labor conditions of these cocoa fields, the children are exposed to hazardous agricultural chemicals that the farmers use to spray the beans. Also, most of the children are unable to attend school, which gives them little hope of ever breaking the cycle of poverty (Kenyon). Many cases have documented that children have been forced against their will to work on these farms. The farmers would beat the children for trying to escape or working too slowly.
Many Americans and others around the world become astounded when they discover this issue in West Africa. In particular, America has experienced its own form of slavery and everyone understands the negative affects it had on our country. What makes slavery in West Africa acceptable now? Is anyone going to take action and look out for the children?
One of the main problems is that the Ivorian government does not contain the resources required to investigate and prosecute the employers who are in violation. The Ivorian government is responsible for the actions that occur within its country; however, the corporations that buy the cocoa from these places bear some responsibility as well. These large corporations buying the cocoa encourage West Africa to continue the way it has been going. These corporations like the fact that the cocoa is extremely inexpensive allowing for a high return to its investors.
However, this is not to say that these companies do not realize the issues occurring in West Africa, but something needs to change. Nestle has decided to take action and begin the prevention of child labor in cocoa-growing areas. Nestle is raising awareness of the current issues at large by training people to identify the children that are at risk and intervene when necessary. The plan is in response to the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to develop a more sustainable cocoa supply chain. Nestle’s Executive Vice President for Operations announced, “The use of child labor in our cocoa supply chain goes against everything we stand for. As the FLA report makes clear, no company sourcing cocoa from the [Ivory Coast] can guarantee that it doesn’t happen, but what we can say is that tackling child labour is a top priority for our company” (Nestle Sets out Actions to Address Child Labour). It may be difficult to concretely prove that companies like Nestle are making the effort to help the children in West Africa. However, this proves that these corporations are aware of the conditions and one can only hope the necessary actions are being taken.
There have been many anti-child labor campaigns aimed against these large chocolate producing companies. Hershey’s is another large corporation that has been receiving heat for employing child labor in its cocoa fields. Raise the Bar is one campaign that was aimed against Hershey’s. It took over a year to receive any response regarding the issue from Hershey’s. Hershey’s never responded until International Labor Rights threatened to air an ad about Hershey’s child labor issues on a jumbo screen at the Super Bowl (Polis). The company has pledged to use cocoa that has only been certified by the Rainforest Alliance, especially for its line of Bliss Chocolates. Prior to this agreement, Hershey’s confirmed the notion that all of the cocoa for Bliss chocolates originates from West Africa.
Hershey’s plans to invest $10 million in West Africa, in the hopes that the money can be used to reduce child labor and improve the cocoa supply (Polis). Some economists are worried that by eliminating child labor it would ruin the cocoa production in West Africa. As a result, the economy would drastically suffer since it relies heavily on the exportation of cocoa. However, I would argue that terminating child labor in West Africa would eventually have a positive impact on the economy. Children who were previously forced to provide labor in the cocoa fields would be given the opportunity to become educated. Through this education they would have a better chance to breaking the cycle of poverty and adding to the economy in different ways.
Companies need to take a stand and interfere in these extreme social issues. It is believed that large companies similar to Nestle and Hershey’s have helped create the problem of child labor. When these corporations continue to buy the cocoa produced from child labor, it allows for West Africa to create an economy that revolves around the exportation of cocoa. These companies have a moral obligation to interfere and help correct the wrong doings. Technically, when using child labor the return to shareholders is exponentially higher because of the cheap labor. However, it is ethically immoral because the action of child labor itself is wrong.
A previous child slave said it best; “when people eat chocolate they are eating my flesh” (Sapoznik). Is that the kind of thing you think about as you are shoving a Reese’s Cup in your mouth? I sure did not, until I began my research about the labor conditions on the Ivory Coast. Child labor has been an issue for decades, yet people continue to buy and eat pounds of chocolate every year. So, before you shove that next Reese’s Cup down your throat, think about that child who slaved long hours just so you could your moment of bliss.
To really put things into perspective: here is a video of how American children think about candy that they received on Halloween.
Now, to contrast the way American children consume chocolate, here is a video of the way children in the Ivory Coast describe their way of life to produce chocolate
Kenyon, Paul. “Tracing the Bitter Truth of Chocolate and Child Labor.” BBC News. BBC, 24 Mar. 2010. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_8583000/8583499.stm>.
“Nestlé Sets out Actions to Address Child Labour.” Nestlé Cocoa Plan. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://www.nestlecocoaplan.com/nestle-sets-out-actions-to-address-child-labour/>.
Polis, Carey. “Hershey’s Child Labor: Chocolate Company To Source Independently Certified Cocoa By End Of 2012.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 01 Feb. 2012. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/hersheys-child-labor_n_1247111.html>.
Raghavan, Sudarsan, and Sumana Chatterjee. “Stop Chocolate Slavery – News and Information.” Stop Chocolate Slavery – News and Information. N.p., 24 June 2001. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://vision.ucsd.edu/~kbranson/stopchocolateslavery/atasteofslavery.html>.
Sapoznik, Karlee. “”When People Eat Chocolate, They Are Eating My Flesh”: Slavery and the Dark Side of Chocolate.” ActiveHistoryca RSS. N.p., 30 June 2010. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://activehistory.ca/2010/06/“when-people-eat-chocolate-they-are-eating-my-flesh”-slavery-and-the-dark-side-of-chocolate/>.
“Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Food Empowerment Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-in-the-chocolate-industry/>.
Thomson, Julie R. “Halloween Candy Facts: 12 Things You Might Not Have Known.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 28 Oct. 2011. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/28/halloween-candy-facts-statistics_n_1062687.html>.