Thursday, November 1, 2012

Chocolate and Child Labor

Did you know: that chocolate candy you love so much may have been produced with the help of child labor in West Africa. Happy belated Halloween! It's a very unfortunate mistake to consider the world rid of slavery, which is especially heartbreaking in the case of children kidnapped from their homes for a life of dreary, often dangerous manual labor. I am unfortunately not as well versed in this subject as I'd like to be, so for that there are lots of links and even a BBC documentary.

[I know, I quit blogging for a month and come back with this sad, sad story. I'll get less concerned in the next post or two, so come back for those!]

First, I was not even aware that this happened [although I must admit, I wasn't terribly surprised] until I read this post from Kristen Howerton:

The Inconvenient Truth About Your Halloween Chocolate and Forced Child Labor
The picture below is a photo of a young child gathering pods to harvest cocoa beans. There are hundreds of thousands of children in West Africa who do this work. Young children. Children who should be attending school and having a childhood. And they are working for most of the mainstream chocolate providers in the USA. A report from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture about cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast estimated there were 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous conditions. Some of them have been taken from their families, or sold as servants. U.S. chocolate manufacturers have claimed they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations since they don't own them. This includes Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and the US division of Cadbury . . . who collectively represent pretty much every snack-size candy bar that will be available in stores this Halloween
Chocolate: The Bitter Truth

I know it's a long five parts, but this documentary gets to the heart of this tragedy, with interviews of children working on cocoa farms and parents who had their children torn away from them. [As per usual with the BBC news, it is very well done and very, very heartbreaking.]

I hope that we can do something about these mega-companies using cocoa harvested by child slaves. The obvious answer is to only buy fair trade, but there are a few other ways to help as well.

From Problem to Solution: Practical Ideas for an Ethical Halloween
The chocolate companies are well aware of the human rights abuses in the farms they are buying from, but unfortunately it is the profitability that is driving the ship, not ethics. I really do believe that consumers can change things. I think back ten years ago, when organic food was a fringe hippie thing that you could only by at specialty stores. Now, nearly every mainstream grocery store is producing their own line of organic foods. Consumer demand is what drives the market.
Lastly, this is the headline I happened to notice on MSN a little while ago. I don't remember EVER seeing or hearing or reading about the child slavery issue specific to chocolate, so I felt like the universe was telling me I needed to get back to the blog.

Hershey Shareholders Sue for Child Labor Records
The complaint says that reports about the systemic use of child labor, forced labor and human trafficking on cocoa farms in West Africa caught the eye of the U.S. House of Representatives as early as 2001. The House passed a proposed amendment to the FDA and Related Agencies Appropriations Act that would require "slave-free" labeling for cocoa products.

Before that amendment could go to the Senate for a vote, the lawsuit notes that major cocoa producers -- including Hershey -- promised to solve the problem in-house without pressure from lawmakers. Those companies signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol to eliminate illegal child labor in high cocoa-producing countries in West Africa, but the lawsuit contends there is ample evidence that the companies failed to comply with its terms.
Hopefully this becomes a big deal for the media and people actually start to acknowledge the fact that a lot of the products we buy are so cheap because of slavery and sweat shops and unfair, unsustainable business practices. Hopefully.

In the meantime, I won't be buying candy [not that I do anyways] and will try to avoid those companies that are doing the least to end child slavery in their supply chains.