Good Magazine’s Kristen Howerton makes the alarming claim that hundreds of thousands of children in West Africa are enslaved harvesting cocoa beans for the benefit of most of the mainstream chocolate providers in the United States.
Howerton cites a report from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and other African countries that estimates there are 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous conditions. Many of these children have been abducted from their families and sold as servants.
Since these cocoa plantations are not directly owned by the major chocolate companies like Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and Cadbury, these companies renounce any obligation and responsibility for the abominable plantation conditions.
Howerton says the connection between major candy bar manufacturers and child slavery is one of the world’s best-kept secrets, and confesses only learning about this last year from a documentary produced by the BBC.
“I was shocked to learn that the International Labor Rights Fund has sued the U.S. government for failing to enforce laws prohibiting the import of products made with child labor. And I was even more surprised to hear that the chocolate industry has blown by numerous deadlines set by Congress to begin regulating itself.”
A handful of chocolate companies have mounted deceptive campaigns offering obscure fair-trade chocolate bars in addition to their slave-made products in an attempt to camouflage their refusal to be accountable for human rights abuses of children in their supply chains.
Unfortunately, child slave labor isn’t confined to cocoa plantations. Children are being exploited all over the world to manufacture everything from tennis shoes, clothes and toys, to computer circuit boards.
Howerton is deservedly concerned about consumer apathy, and says some people continue to buy chocolate even after learning about these human rights abuses. They echo rationalizations such as “We can’t afford fair-trade.” “We’re addicted to chocolate.” “We can’t change everything.”
Secretly, writes Howerton, we just don’t relate because these are kids in a far-off country instead of our own. It’s OK as long as we don’t have to see it happening right in front of us. We’ll take the candy bar.
I am reminded of the Love Canal incident in the 1970′s, where 36 blocks worth of new tract homes was built on a waste site used to bury 21,000 tons of toxic waste by Hooker Chemical, now Occidental Petroleum Corporation.
Officials refused to believe the toxic chemicals caused children in the area to suffer from epilepsy, asthma, cancer, chromosomal damage, and leukemia, among other diseases.
After Lois Gibbs, a mother living in Love Canal, began a campaign to demonstrate that the waste buried by Hooker Chemical was responsible for the health problems of local residents, she commented one thing she learned was most people won’t lift a finger to get involved unless and until it’s their own kids that get sick.
This Halloween, Howerton’s family is boycotting commercial chocolate and buying fair-trade. Kristen Howerton hopes you will, too. Don’t count on it, Kristen. Nevertheless, here’s where to find “ethical” Halloween candy.