Sometimes the children are slaves to circumstance - the children of poverty-stricken farmers who have no choice but to send the whole family into the fields. The lack of education for the children ensures that the vicious cycle will continue.
But sometimes they are literally slaves.
Children who are involved in the worst labor abuses come from countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo -- nations that are even more destitute than the impoverished Ivory Coast. Parents in these countries sell their children to traffickers believing that they will find honest work once they arrive in Ivory Coast and then send their earnings home. But as soon as they are separated from their families, the young boys are made to work for little or nothing. The children work long and hard -- they head into the fields at 6:00 in the morning and often do not finish until 6:30 at night.
" Though he had worked countless days harvesting cocoa pods -- 400 of which are needed to make a pound of chocolate -- Diabate has never tasted the finished product. "I don't know what chocolate is," he told the press.
The largest chocolate producers are aware of the problems but wash their hands of responsibility.
For years, US chocolate manufacturers have said they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations since they don't own them. But the $13 billion chocolate industry is heavily consolidated, with just two firms -- Hershey's and M&M/Mars -- controlling two-thirds of the US chocolate candy market. Surely, these global corporations have the power and the ability to reform problems in the supply chain. What they lack is the will.
After a string of media exposes and the threat of government action jeopardized their image, the chocolate industry finally agreed to take action in 2001. On November 30, 2001 the US chocolate industry released a Protocol and Joint Statement outlining their plans to work toward eliminating the worst forms of child labor (see ILO Convention 182) and forced labor (see ILO Convention 29) in cocoa production.
Unfortunately, the plan does not guarantee stable and sufficient prices for cocoa, or any guarantee that cocoa farmers will receive a fair income in the end. Without such a guarantee, there is now way to ensure that abusive child labor on cocoa farms will cease for good.
Fortunately there is something you can do about it. Insist on Fairtrade chocolate. Yes, you will pay more for your chocolate, but is getting a lower price on an unnecessary indulgence so important that we are willing to force children into slavery? Are you willing?
The Australian media reports on the abuse: click here.
The cocoa industry fails to deliver on its commitments: click here.
The Biblical take:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. ... Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
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Technorati tags: Cocoa, Slavery