I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever met that didn’t like some form of chocolate. I know there are people who do not like chocolate or have some form of allergy that prevents them from enjoying even the smallest morsel, but I have not met one of these unfortunate souls. Of course, we know that there are many people throughout the world who can’t afford to buy even one bar, a thought that crosses my mind from time-to-time when I’m standing and marveling at the variety and number of options available at the local grocery store.
Fifteen or so years ago when I first came to work with several Mexican maquiladoras (a Mexican manufacturing operation in which a factory imports materials and equipment on a duty-free and tariff-free basis for assembly, processing, or manufacturing and then re-exports the assembled, processed, or manufactured product, sometimes back to the raw materials’ country of origin) I was surprised to learn that many maquiladoras provided bonuses to their factory labor in the form of Snickers bars. Why? Chocolate is expensive in Mexico (for Mexicans!) and, at the time, a delicacy, so it was prized and receipt of this in lieu of money was a benefit to the typical factory worker because the government would tax their bonus if paid in pesos, but not if the bonus was paid in Snickers bars.
The focus of this post, however, is the supply chain used in 70% of the world’s chocolate and how this raw material is harvested and distributed to many of the world’s most prominent chocolate producers. Like me, I’m sure most of you would be shocked to learn that the basic raw material and the method of harvest is heavily dependent on child slave labor in the Ivory Coast. UNICEF estimates that nearly a half-million children work on farms across Ivory Coast, which produces nearly 40% of the world’s supply of cocoa. The agency says hundreds of thousands of children, many of them trafficked across borders, are engaged in the worst forms of child labor.
That’s right, slave labor and child slave labor at that!
As part of CNN’s Freedom Project, a team of investigative reporters examined the source of the primary raw material of chocolate and produced a series of documentaries and articles that can be found at http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/. I encourage you to watch and read the material available at this website.
So what can we do? As consumers of the products we have enormous power, but the source of that power is in numbers. To a company, one consumer speaking out is only a whimper, but thousands or tens of thousands or millions of people speaking out is compelling and when these people speak with their pocket book; now that sends a message.
We can support the Fair Trade Initiatives and demand that our products and their raw materials are produced by companies that adhere to the standards and practices that assure basic human rights. http://www.fairtrade.net/
Some companies have reacted, but only after the atrocity was exposed (again). http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/31/hershey-pledges-10-million-to-improve-west-african-cocoa-farming-fight-child-labor/
What we do as consumers will end this practice. What will you do?
© 2012 Michael L. Henderson. All rights reserved.