The Islamic Post Blog

The Story Of Chocolate is Bittersweet by Khalida
May 21, 2009, 6:01 am
Filed under: International, May Volume I - 2009

By Sabeerah Abdul-Majied
Islamic Post Staff Writer

It is quite possible that the chocolate you eat is produced with child labor. Over 40% of the world’s cocoa, the primary ingredient in chocolate production comes from the Ivory Coast of West Africa. The plantation farms produce cocoa for export markets in developed countries. That industry supports large multinational corporations that are engaged in multi- billion dollar trade. The U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on the Ivory Coast (2003) disclosed that approximately 109,000 child laborers work in hazardous conditions in the worst form of child labor on cocoa farms.
While the cocoa beans are supplied by the Ivory Coast, the US, the world biggest buyer, trades billions of dollars in chocolate products annually. A BBC News Report (2008) Child Cocoa Workers Still ‘Exploited’ noted that for years it has been known that thousands of children work in appalling conditions on Cocoa Plantations on the Ivory Coast of West Africa. They often do not attend school and sometimes work away from their parents. Their hours of work are long and some injuries they receive while working with machetes go untreated.
One human Rights lawyer stated that the companies promote themselves as innocent purchasers. In reality however they established the system of production years ago when they planted the cocoa trees from which they now reap the rewards. Human rights activists also believe that because of the prominent role that chocolate manufacturers play in the industry they have a responsibility to ensure that cocoa used in their products are grown under conditions that meet international law and sustain a thriving community in Africa.
Unfortunately child labor practices in the cocoa farms of West Africa are not unique. It is part of a global trend where an increasing number of children provide cheap labor. They work under hazardous conditions in the agricultural sector producing cotton, bananas, tobacco, coffee and tea.
Increases in child labor in West Africa’s cocoa sector has been linked to the decline in world cocoa prices between the 1980s and 1990s. Farmers who used to be protected by a government price system lost that privilege due to Structural Adjustment measures initiated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The result was the dismantling of the government cocoa board. Consequently standards of living for the farmers decreased and they became more vulnerable to exploitation. Forced to cut production costs, cheaper child labor that included slave labor became widespread.
In 2001 critics like Knight Ridder (an American media company) and others made the public aware of the existence of child slavery on Ivory Coast cocoa farms. The negative publicity and public demands for answers were taken up by two U.S. congress members, Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eliot Engel. They proposed a system to certify chocolate products as “slave free.” The proposal passed the House of Representatives but created a potential disaster for major chocolate manufacturers like Mars, Hershey’s and Nestle. Instead before the bill reached the Senate the industry agreed to take steps to solve the child labor problem.
A protocol was drafted to eliminate the worst forms of child labor and forced labor, in growing and processing cocoa. The voluntary Harkin-Engel Protocol expired in 2005 and eyewitnesses confirmed that the industry did not fulfill its promise. An extended deadline was given until 2008. This year legislation to eliminate the practice of child labor on cocoa farms is expected to be drafted against the global chocolate industry.
There is some good news however. This spring, Cadbury’s , the top selling chocolate bar in England, announced plans to achieve Fair Trade certification by the end of summer 2009. Fair Trade certification verifies that the chocolate company uses cocoa purchased from Fair Trade certified cooperatives in West Africa that do not use the worst forms of child labor and forced labor. Also Fair Trade helps farmers to improve their incomes, assists their farm organization and invests in community projects like schools and clinics.
Cadbury is the first of the major international chocolate brands to commit to ending labor rights abuses in the cocoa supply chain. Advocates around the world celebrate Cadbury’s news and see it as a victory for cocoa farmers and chocolate lovers. They continue to eagerly await the day when major US Companies like Nestle, Mars, Hershey’s and World’s Finest Chocolate will follow Cadbury’s lead.
In the meantime consumer purchasing power can assist the process. Consumers can demand Fair Trade Certified products which guarantee that farmers receive a fair price for their products and the labor force used did not include children or slaves. These products are available in grocery stores and online.
Note: Child labor as defined by the International Labor Organization refers to children less than 15 years who are economically active. These exclude children under five years or those 12-14 years who work for less than 14 hours on their job if the job is not hazardous by nature or circumstance. Child slavery is among the worst forms of child labor.

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