Chocolate is the product of child slavery. We are not talking about Willy Wonka’s creepy Oompa Lumpas creating masterful chocolate in a magical land of bright colours and indulgence, rather, we are talking about West African children who are made to work in abhorrent conditions.
The Chocolate Industry and Child Slavery
While slavery was officially abolished 200 years ago, and remains an illegal practice in the Ivory Coast, the UN-approved figure above suggests that the practice of slavery is still very much alive.
West Africa is responsible for the output of 69% of the world’s total cocoa production. Of that percentage, the Ivory Coast, located on the southern coast of West Africa, is responsible for 43%, making it the world’s largest supplier of cocoa.
Unfortunately, what this statistic fails to convey is the reported 200, 000 child slaves working on cocoa farms within the Ivory Coast.
The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) reports that hundreds of thousands of children are purchased or stolen from their parents by traffickers each year and brought to work as slaves in the cocoa farms of the Ivory Coast. According to the International Labor Rights Forum, the majority of these enslaved children, typically between the ages of 11 and 16, are from neighboring African countries including Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo. Sold into slavery for a petty price, these child slaves are guaranteed a future of hard manual labour, averaging about 80-100 hours of work per week.
The chocolate industry is dominated by a multitude of small, private farms, who have, for many years, exploited the labour of child slavery. In fact, the Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry has grown substantially since its start in the early 20th century, and currently accounts for 1/3rd of the country’s national income.
The collection of cocoa is a long, tedious process, that relies upon intensive manual labour. Carried out by child slavery, owned by private plantation owners, the process begins with a pesticide treatment for the cocoa trees. For the duration of the year-long harvesting period, child slaves repeat this process of spraying the cocoa trees with pesticides, picking and harvesting the cocoa beans from the trees, removing the cocoa beans and transporting them to a fermentation and drying facility.
What Have We Done to Stop Child Slavery in the Chocolate Industry?
Unfortunately, as of yet, the conditions of the Harkin-Engel Protocol have yet to be implemented in their entirety.
First introduced by US Representative Elliot Engel and US Senator Tom Harkin in 2001, the Harkin-Engel Protocol mandated a labeling system for chocolate, certifying chocolate as “child labour free”. The intention of which was to end the worst forms of child slavery in the production of cocoa.
This legislation, formally titled “Protocol for the Growing and Processing of Cocoa Beans and Their Derivative Products In a Manner that Complies with ILO Convention 182 Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor” aroused concern from the chocolate industry.
On account of this concern, a compromise was reached wherein the chocolate industry were allowed to ‘self-regulate’, meaning that the chocolate industry were provided the opportunity to voluntarily certify disengagement from the use of child slavery. The protocol lists 6 articles including public reporting by African governments, third-party verification and poverty remediation.
In 2001, Harkin and Engel contracted Tulane University to serve as an oversight body to monitor the progress and implementation of the Harkin- Engel Protocol until its final implementation in 2005. When that deadline passed, the protocol was extended until July 2008. After limited advancements the protocol was extended into 2010, and again into the fall of 2012.
The International Cocoa Agreement
In 2010, the UN Conference on Trade and Development hosted the UN Cocoa Conference, with the intention of modifying and finalizing the International Cocoa Agreement. Established in 2005, the International Cocoa Agreement provides a new framework for promoting international cooperation in the cocoa world economy.
This May 2012, the EU and the Ivory Coast ratified the International Cocoa Agreement, which is set to come into force in October 2012.
The Chocolate Industry Is Still Complicit in Child Slavery
In order to keep costs low and the chocolate flowing, some of our favorite chocolate companies continue to support the practice of child slavery, and thus the exploitation of child labour. While companies such as M&M and many more, have issued public condemnations of child slavery, they have also acknowledged that they knowingly use cocoa from the Ivory Coast and thus cannot assure consumers that their products are free from child slavery. While some companies have suggested that there is no feasible manner in which they can control the labour practices of their cocoa suppliers, it would seem that other companies have managed to do so.
CSR to the Rescue?
Companies such as Cloud Nine and Cliff Bar have gone the extra mile in order to ensure their consumers that the cocoa they purchase is free from child slavery. Recently, larger chocolate producers have begun to take steps towards socially responsible chocolate. In January, Hershey launches the Hershey Cocoa Sustainability Project, wherein it pledged $10 million to accelerate programs to improve cocoa communities.
Ferrero and Mars have followed suit, committing their companies to socially responsible, anti-child slavery chocolate production, promising the eradication of child trafficking from their products by the year 2020.
As recently as this year, an investigation initiated by CNN’s Freedom Project, documented the continued practice of child labour in the Ivory Coast, and found it to be rife with human trafficking and child slavery. In 2012, the freedom project released a documentary of their findings while in the Ivory Coast.
What Can Young Professionals Do to Help?
Luckily for us, initiatives such as the Harkin-Engel Protocol have increased the transparency of the chocolate industry, allowing some chocolate producers to verify their products as ‘child labour free’.
According to Gene Tanski, CEO of Demand Foresight, organic chocolate is assuredly free of child slavery. She insists that there is very little capacity or interest in creating organic chocolate within West Africa. Organic chocolate is therefore almost exclusively made in Central and South America. The question remains who is responsible? Is it the UN, the chocolate industry or is it us, the consumer? Likely, the responsibility is comprehensive.