Chocolate Worker Slavery
While slavery in Sudan, Africa, has received much attention, the slavery of children in western Africa has not been so publicized. Almost half of the world's cocoa beans are grown in western Africa, particularly in the Ivory Coast. Many of the farms in that country import child slave labor from neighboring countries.
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The slave trade there has persisted because it is difficult to detect. The farms are in remote areas, and from appearance it is not evident that the children are slaves. The government officials claim that it is foreigners who are using the slaves. The chocolate manufacturers claim they rely on their suppliers to provide untainted cocoa beans, and the suppliers claim they can't control what goes on in the farms.
Of course the government of Ivory Coast should be enforcing its anti-slavery laws. But since it is not doing so, global public pressure must be applied. For that to happen, consumers must be informed. That implies labels on all chocolate products. Chocolate should not be prohibited, but consumers need to be informed as to what they are buying. They need to know whether there is slavery in the chocolate.
Citizens should put pressure on their State governments to require that sellers of chocolate products inform consumers that the chocolate may have used slave labor. Congress should also require chocolate and cocoa imports to be tagged as slave-laden if they are not reliably certified non-slave. This is not an intervention into the market, because the prime intervention is the slavery. When consumers buy slave-produced products, they contribute to the slavery. But first they need to know that this is what they do.
If the labels are not on the packaging of the chocolate, they need to be located at the shelves where the chocolates are sold. Such labels would no doubt decrease the demand for chocolate. The sellers and manufacturers would then put pressure on the wholesalers to ensure that they provide certified non-slave chocolate. The slave farms would then lose their customers.
The slave story was revealed by reports of a ship in the ocean by West Africa said to be loaded with child slaves. Knight Ridder correspondent Sudarsan Raghavan then trekked into the Ivory Coast and found the farms using enslaved boys to harvest the cocoa. Knight Ridder correspondent Sumana Chatterjee researched the cocoa trail. Now the chocolate-producing companies acknowledge the slavery. For information, see news or send a $2 check to the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, attn. Slavery Reprint, 700 National Press Building, Washington DC 20045.
A boycott of all chocolate would not be that effective, since that would hurt non-slave as well as slave chocolate. It is better to focus efforts on the problem itself.
Public protests are the best method. Currently there is no way to tell whether the cocoa drink or chocolate bars we buy today are made with slave labor. Besides writing to your State or provincial and federal or national representatives, write to the companies who produce and package the chocolate or cocoa. The leading companies include Hershey Foods, Mars, Nestle, Archer Daniels Midland, and See's. Tell them you want non-slave products and labeling.
Thanks to the Knight Ridder investigations, their reports of the slavery are already creating a response. The Chocolate Manufacturers Association, based in Vienna, Virginia, is conducting a survey of farms in Ivory Coast. The US Labor department has a program to eliminate child labor in West Africa, but it cannot spend funds in Ivory Coast because the US banned aid to that country in 1999 after a military coup. The Labor Department is therefore working with the International Labor Organization.
There is a "fair trade" movement for coffee worldwide to buy coffee from farms that have good environmental and labor standards. The "fair trade" movement in cocoa is tiny and based mainly in Europe. Activists could expand the movement to North America and elsewhere.
Once labeling is in place, non-slave chocolate will be more expensive. Consumers will have a choice between cheap slave-made chocolate and more expensive free-labor chocolate. Many will choose to avoid slave-made chocolate. Many stores and cafés will avoid selling slave-laden products. The movement will gather momentum, and the slave trade will collapse.
We can end the chocolate worker slavery. Start writing those letters!
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2001 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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