Indulgent sweet treats are somewhat a part of American culture, like all the bite-sized chocolates we see around Christmas time or Valentine's Day. Would the gesture of a milk chocolate gift be as warm or romantic, however, if you knew it was produced using child slave labor?
Probably not. And this is the exact conundrum many chocolate producers have found themselves in over the years through inhumane means of production.
The cocoa bean is primarily found in Latin America and Western Africa, coming mostly from Ghana and the Ivory Coast where 70% of the world’s cocoa is reaped.
But back in 2010, Ivorian government authorities detained three newspaper journalists after they published an article exposing government corruption in the cocoa bean industry. The report found that at that time, farms in West Africa which supply cocoa to chocolate industry giants such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestlé were among some of the worst farms in terms of of child labor, human trafficking and slavery.
Somehow, the problem continues to go unseen on a large scale, although its consistently researched and reported on like in the 2010 documentary The Dark Side Of Chocolate and in major publications time and time again.
Some companies have made strides to rectify the issue of child slave labor in chocolate production, however. Hershey's reports a commitment towards sourcing 100 percent certified and sustainable cocoa for all of their products by 2020. Currently, the company is sourcing 75 percent of its chocolate from certified and sustainable growers.
Last year, Green America created this “Big Chocolate Scorecard” illustrating which companies are doing the best and worst to address sustainability and take on the child labor problem. Nestlé earned the highest score awarded (3.5 chocolate bars out of 5) among the big companies, reportedly for its high level of engagement with farmers through its Cocoa Plan program.
The issue of child slave labor in the chocolate industry is still real, however. In some cases, families are in such dire means of desperation for the money companies contracted by the chocolate industry promise, that they sell their own children into the illegal and inhumane child labor industry.
Abby Mills, Campaign Director of the International Labor Rights Forum, explains, “Every research study ever conducted in [Western Africa] shows that there is human trafficking going on, particularly in the Ivory Coast.”
Taken into context, the term “slavery” is used to represent some form of human rights violations, such as cases of physical violence like being whipped for working slowly or workers being locked in cages all night to prevent them from escaping.
While major chocolate corporations have just begun to remedy the harm done by unregulated labor mills used to produce their products, the issue, however, isn't even with the companies directly, it's a lack of visibility or concern for the workers at the perceived lowest end of the totem pole.
This is the exact reason practices like sourcing from "fair trade" food producers is so important. "Fair Trade is a partnership among food buyers and producers based on dialogue, transparency and respect.
The goal is to use humane and fair practices while achieving greater equity in international trade, contributing to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions and securing the rights for the marginalized producers and workers who are the backbone of these products.
If we continue to accept and purchase products from companies who bypass and downplay a need for ethical means of production, we're only adding to the suffering of others for a moment of indulgent bliss. It's as we'd say, food for thought.