When Chocolate Isn't Sweet: Slavery & Human Trafficking in the Cocoa Industry
Chocolate is a beloved international staple, found on most grocery store shelves and featured in restaurant menus across the world. We give a box of chocolates as a teacher gift, make s’mores around a campfire each summer, and dole it out to trick or treaters on Halloween. There is no doubt that chocolate is a pivotal part of our American culture. Ironically for an industry known for sweet decadence, there is a dark side to chocolate that has often evaded the public eye — the chocolate industry is connected to the worst forms of child labor, human trafficking, and slavery.
Did you know that Western African countries, such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast, supply more than 70% of the world’s cocoa? Most of the world’s largest chocolate companies — including Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle — purchase cocoa that is grown and harvested in these regions. What’s the issue? Many don’t realize that children are enslaved to harvest this coveted bean and are often forced to work 80-100 hours a week while receiving no education, payment, or proper meals in the process — just to stock our shelves with chocolate.
The children of West Africa endure intense poverty and often begin working at a young age to help support their families financially. Children find themselves on farms because they’re promised well-paid wages by traffickers, while other children are “sold,” often by their own family members. Many parents are unaware of the dangerous and unethical work conditions they will face. They are expected to operate dangerous equipment such as chainsaws and machetes, and are regularly exposed to toxic agricultural chemicals. Though the average ages of children on cocoa farms fall between 11-16, children as young as five have been spotted by reporters. Some work for a few months, while others might never reunite with their families again.
Take a moment and consider how often we eat and purchase chocolate in our everyday culture. The average American consumes over 11 pounds of chocolate per year, and considering all of the holidays that call for this sweet treat, this number isn’t too surprising. We stuff it into Christmas stockings and Easter baskets, gift it in heart shaped boxes on Valentine’s Day, and even stir it into our morning coffee. How many times have we taken our kids out for ice cream sundaes or shared a piece of chocolate cake after a meal?
We believe that it’s important to purchase ethically sourced chocolate whenever possible. At Ecocentric Mom, we are big proponents of Certified Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance Certified products, two labels that commit to ending slavery and human trafficking. Here’s the scoop:
If a chocolate is labeled as Certified Fair Trade, it originated from farms that have committed to providing fair wages and safe working conditions — forced child labor is prohibited on such farms.
If chocolate is Rainforest Alliance Certified, it must comply with ten standards created by the Sustainable Agriculture Network, including wildlife protection, ecosystem conservation, fair treatment, and good working conditions.
Our March 2017 Ecocentric Mom Boxes featured Nibmor Cacao Nibs, which are both delicious and Rainforest Alliance Certified. The company’s indulgent Drinking Chocolate is also Certified Fair Trade. The idea for NibMor was started when the two founders, Heather and Jennifer, couldn’t find an affordable chocolate option with the health attributes they were seeking. NibMor is dedicated to using only the highest quality ingredients and fair trade practices at an affordable price point.
Are you shocked and angry by the information you’ve learned? Here’s what you can do to help —
1. Commit to supporting brands like NibMor and purchase only ethically sourced chocolate.
2. Watch The Dark Side of Chocolate and educate your friends about the origin of their favorite candy bars. Consumers are powerful, and we truly have the ability to spark change. Remember, we vote with our dollars.
3. Share this article to your Facebook and Twitter pages. Help us spread the word and put an end to these horrific practices.
Were you surprised by something you read in this article? Share your thoughts below.
Jessica is an East Coast girl recently transplanted to Austin, Texas. She is an OB-GYN RN, freelance writer, and content manager in between her time at home with her three busy kids. You can follow her antics on Instagram and on her blog Motherhood Written, where she blogs about the fun and messiness of parenting with a nine-year age gap.