If your new year’s resolution was to eat less chocolate and exploit fewer child slaves, it turns out you’re actually killing two birds with one stone.
Almost universally children love chocolate and hate being slaves. A thing you should know about children is they tend not to be SUPER keen on being sold into slavery as a way of offsetting the economic pressures of cocoa production. If you look on Wikipedia for a start (and admit it, you do. Who needs encyclopaedic fact checkers and research when you’ve got the consensus of a jury of your peers?) the entry on children in cocoa production begins with the phrase “the widespread use of children in cocoa production is controversial” [my emphasis]. I feel this is a loose use of the term controversial, implying that people think the widespread use of children in cocoa production is an argument with two sides. Look. If you’re playing devil’s advocate on this one, you’re leaning hard on the ‘devil’. (Made for children, by children! Where’s the downside!?)
The alleged controversy lies in the fact that up to 12,000 of the 200,000 children working in Côte d'Ivoire, the world's biggest producer of cocoa, may be trafficked slaves. I mean. On one hand, that means there are 12,000 children who have been sold into slavery. On the other hand, I feel like that takes some of the attention away from the very real concern that there are 188,000 other kids who are totally getting a jump start on the labour market. This seems like an unfair advantage for kids in western countries who have to make do with unpaid internships and paper-rounds instead of proper backbreaking 18 hour-a-day jobs.
I do feel calling the widespread use of children in cocoa production a controversy is like deploying the phrase ‘controversial figure, Ivan Milat’. But there is an argument to be made that it’s not (just) the people buying and selling slaves who are the problem, but that the economic pressures of mass production, and the big commercial brands like Mars, Nestle and Hershey driving for low prices which lead to the trafficking of children into unpaid labour on cocoa plantations. It is true. We do need to keep chocolate prices low because it’s definitely not like we have an obesity epidemic or sickeningly high rates of edible-food-waste.
According to this unicef report, concern about trafficked child workers (the child victims of forced labour) employed in cocoa farms in West Africa was voiced in the late 1990s and 2000 both in West Africa, and in Europe and North America. Which was fifteen years ago! Definitely enough time to stop child slavery, or at the very least, long enough to let the kids grow up into far less distressing adult slaves! Unfortunately, the practices persist, and this Guardian article from September (last year! Happy new year!), children “younger than 15 continue to work at cocoa farms connected to Nestlé, more than a decade after the food company promised to end the use of child labour in its supply chain.” So glad we’ve got that sorted.
In the course of research I came across a number of horrifying stories and gut-wrenching facts. (Thirty percent of children under 15 in sub-Saharan Africa are child laborers! Which really puts the headline ‘Sexting in Australian highschools is on the rise!’ into perspective) Worse, the literature is worryingly pun-filled, like this one: Child rights in the chocolate industry: a rocky road to progress. Or this one: Bitter life of chocolate's child slaves. Or this one: Hershey, Nestle, and Mars Sued in Child Slavery Class Action. Ok that last headline was less a pun and more just a headline about a thing. But you looked for a pun, and in looking for the pun, you stared at the names of some of the companies you should definitely calling, emailing, or at the very least thinking twice about dumping into your trolley the next time you have PMS.
I’m sorry I tricked you with the comedy rule of threes. To be fair (fair trade, amiright?) I’m not as sorry as chocolate companies should be for tricking us all into thinking chocolate is a cheap treat whose only consequences are ‘going straight to my hips’, ‘being bad for dogs, I heard somewhere’ and ‘making children hyperactive’.
Here is a directory of slave-free-chocolate. Take a look. It’s like checking if something’s gluten free, except instead of expressing your pretentious narcissism, borderline othorexia or coeliac disease, you’re expressing your preference for not eating the suffering of small, defenceless humans.