It’s hard to believe in this day and age that a food item so popular that Americans consume $18 Billion’s worth of it annually, is linked to something so appalling as child labor. It’s unfortunate, but true: Most brand name chocolate manufacturers source their chocolate from farms that employ child labor.
Over 70% of the world’s cocoa beans are produced in West Africa, and The Ivory Coast and Ghana are the largest producers generating more than half of the world’s cocoa. They are also two of the worst countries for exploiting child labor in the harvesting of the cocoa bean with 2.3 million children working in their fields. Ranging in age from 5 to 17, most of the children working on these farms do so under harsh and abusive conditions.
The work children perform usually involves using machetes for the arduous task of clearing the land, gathering cocoa pods, and splitting them open. When not swinging a machete, they are spraying pesticides or carrying heavy sacks of cocoa. The children, who are trafficked in from neighboring countries or paid a small sum of money for, are prohibited from attending school and seeing their family. They often go hungry and are lucky to get paid, making as much as 89 cents for a long day’s work.
Challenges of Ending Child Labor
This illegal activity and breach of human rights first came to light in the U.S. in 2001. Big players in the chocolate manufacturing and cocoa industries pledged to eradicate child labor by 2005. But that didn’t happen. So, the deadline was pushed back to 2008, and again to 2010. Now, the deadline is 2020, and chances are it will be pushed back yet again. For the past 20 years, the exploitive use of child labor has still not been abolished, and it doesn’t appear like it will be anytime soon.
One reason eliminating child labor is so challenging is because large chocolate companies don’t know which farms their product comes from. There are many small cocoa farms in Ghana and The Ivory Coast and as the price of cocoa beans has gone down, the wages cocoa farmers make is barely enough. It’s the primary reason farmers resort to child labor, even though it’s illegal and officially discouraged in their country. They get away with it, though, because these countries lack the resources to effectively monitor the activity on cocoa farms.
Not enough attention has been brought to this problem, which is another reason why it still exists. Not to mention, there are no fines or consequences when large chocolate manufacturers purchase from unethical farmers.
Steps in the Right Direction
However, brand name chocolate companies have taken steps to eliminate child labor by sourcing more of their product from farms approved by third party ethical groups. Fairtrade, Utz, and Rainforest Alliance are three nonprofit groups that provide labels on chocolate products ethically produced, meaning no child labor was involved.
Plus, there’s more good news: A number of lesser-known chocolate companies are paying fair prices to cocoa farmers to ensure their products are ethically produced. One such company, Ethereal, believes in building relationships with farmers, paying them a fair price, and working with them to bring a quality and ethical, product to market. Casas Flowers is an exclusive seller of Ethereal’s special brand of chocolate in the Tuscon area.
Eliminating child labor in the production of chocolate isn’t likely to go away soon, but you can do your part. Only purchase chocolate that has been certified by the fair-trade commission or from ethical companies like Ethereal. And, help us spread the word, so more consumers are aware. It’s a step in the right direction, and if we all act together, then it’s possible to see an end to child labor in the manufacturing of chocolate on the horizon.