Is Our Love of Chocolate Feeding Child Slavery?

Murder, corruption, civil war, corporate cover ups, the true story behind the cocoa saga plays out like a block buster movie.  I use the word saga because we promised to take care of the situation 10 years ago under the Engle-Harkin Protocol but have fallen dead on our promise.

I didn’t have a clue that cocoa was tied to child slavery until sometime in early 2007 when my daughter, mentioned in passing, that her hero, Jane Goodall, was against slave chocolate. It is estimated there are between 12 to 27 million slaves today on this planet.   It’s all very sad and heinous, but the idea that enslaved kids are tied to our chocolate is something I can’t brush off as another sad news story of the day.  The research that quickly followed my daughter’s statement surprised me on two fronts.  One is that the situation was supposed to have been remedied, the other was that I was not alone in my naiveté.  No one else I spoke to had any idea either.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s the poor subsistence farmers of the West African countries of Ghana and Ivory Coast were encouraged to replace their fields with a plant not indigenous to the African continent, cocoa (caChild Slaves Chocolatecao). With the high demand of chocolate products from the wealthy western world, how could the standard of living for these African countries not increase?  Simply put, the farmers in these countries have not received an increase for the price of the cocoa in over 30 years. Desperate for cheap labor beyond the family is the reason children are trafficked from neighboring countries.  As in most modern day slavery stories, an innocent person is coerced.  These kids are promised a bike and $100 dollars if they work the fields for a season.  Children working during harvest is historically common place.  This is not the same situation.  These child slaves are consistently locked up, beaten into submission are unable return to their families.  They are not given a chance to go to school or receive medical care for common place injuries such as machete wounds that maim them.   All the while, industrialized nations eat 5 billon dollars of chocolate.  Most likely, these children have never tasted chocolate.  There is an estimated 20,000 of them.

The nutty part with child slavery on the cocoa farms in West Africa is that accountability was acknowledged by US candy companies. A plan for remediation was created in 2001.  In efforts to thwart legislation which would have resulted in chocolate being stamped “Slave Free” or not, companies agreed to voluntarily remedy the conditions under the Engle-Harkin Protocol.  Milestones set for 2005 and 2008 were set.  2005 came and went with no progress of note.  In 2008, foreign journalists reported another bleak report card for chocolate slave trade.

In 2007, determined to do something, SlaveFreeChocolate.org was created.   SlaveFreeChocolate.org is a vehicle for spreading awareness.  It’s a deposit of reference materials for others to use when writing articles or creating school projects.  We figured if we made research simple more would pick this topic. We encourage and guide others in their work. It’s worked very well.  SlaveFreeChocolate.org was the first site of this kind in 2007.  5 years later it is easier to find info. There are more websites, more Youtube videos, 2 foreign documentaries and finally cocoa is listed as a slave product in the US Agricultural Department an sometime you will hear of groups protesting the US candy companies in public.

The progress is extremely slow going, but awareness is the first step to change for the social good. Pass it on.

{Guest Contributor} Ayn Riggs – owner of blog SlaveFreeChocolate.org, whose mission is to bring media and public awareness to the common  use of child slaves to harvest cacao in West African countries in accordance to the Engel-Harkin Protocol.

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