The Ivory Coast produces a large portion of the world’s cocoa beans, some sources say up to forty percent. Apparently they want to increase that figure to fifty. None of those facts are problematic. But one issue some might not be aware of is the use of pre-teen and teen slaves in cocoa production there. According to Okio Credit USA there might be 100,000 youth slaves in the Ivory Coast. A case study from American University says that slave traders are trafficking boys ranging from the age of 12 to 16 from their home countries and are selling them to cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire. They work on small farms across the country, harvesting the cocoa beans day and night, under inhumane conditions. Most of the boys come from neighboring Mali, where agents hang around bus stations looking for children that are alone or are begging for food.
A UNICEF estimate pegged the number of children trafficked in West and Central at 200,000 per year but they are not all for the cocoa industry. Consumers of chocolate in the West aren’t to blame for the enslavement of African youth, because they have no direct involvement in the horrific practice. It is also likely most of them aren’t aware a portion of the chocolate sold in the West is made from cocoa beans picked by slaves.
Articles like these sometimes seem to imply the point is to make people feel bad, and that is not true at all. The point is to inform ourselves about the sources of our food, so we don’t inadvertently wind up supporting the abuse of human rights in this case, and environmental destruction in others. A recent awareness campaign claims Hershey’s won’t divulge their African cocoa suppliers because they might be buying cocoa beans from farms using child slaves.
One key aspect of the situation from the consumer point of view is fair trade chocolate. When you see chocolate products with Fair Trade labels, they should have cocoa bean sources from farms that don’t use child slaves or abusive labor practices. One example is Divine Chocolate, which is associated with Lutheran World Relief, an international non-profit working to alleviate poverty.
Fair trade chocolate might cost slightly more, but you won’t be supporting child slavery. Children shouldn’t have to be enslaved and beaten for any reason, but especially not so people in affluent countries can have a snack or dessert.
Image Credit: Public Domain