Chocolate and child slavery

I’ve been aware for a while that child slaves are used on cocoa farms, but I wasn’t motivated enough to investigate the issue. And I knew that it would require a commitment from me that I wouldn’t want to keep.

MissN spoke in a public speaking competition (Speak Up 09) on social justice issues last night ( it was the first inter-school competition she had competed in and she won!) on this topic. Read her speech and see what you think:

Put your hand in the air if you like chocolate! That’s good…

Now put your hand in the air if you like slavery!

The two are intricately mixed.

70% of the world’s cocoa comes from the Cote d’Ivoire. And this cocoa is harvested daily by more than 600 000 child slaves, who work in backbreaking conditions so that you can buy a $1.20 fundraiser Cadbury.

Do you still like chocolate so much?

In Cote d’Ivoire, a country in West Africa, 40-50% of children between a mere 5 and 14 years of age work full time, handling dangerous jobs. 15 000 are captured, beaten, forced to work, and underpaid. Or not paid at all. The majority of these children are illegally trafficked from neighbouring countries.

My cousin is seven years old. She hardly knows what work is – she thinks running around a soccer pitch is hard work. Whereas children the same age, more mature than they should ever have to be, use machetes to cut cocoa beans from high branches, or apply toxic pesticides to cocoa plants without protection.

Aly Diabate was 11 when lured onto a farm, with promises of $150 and a new bicycle. Upon arrival, he realised he had stumbled into a living nightmare. Other children, of whom he was one of the eldest, worked for 14 hours a day in hot blistering conditions. He would lug around a 10kg bag which was taller than he was, and if he dropped it, he would be whipped mercilessly. He would be fed one banana a day. At night, he would live with the rest of the slaves in a 5 by 5 metre room. They were locked in, and if they needed to relieve themselves, they would just have to find some spare space. Aly eventually escaped and alerted the authorities, but he is one of the lucky few. Many forgotten children work through torture like this for years on end.

Slavery, here in our developed countries, is often a dismissed topic. So many people don’t believe it can exist in a modern time like this, or many simply don’t think it is a very big problem. In fact, there are more slaves now than there have ever been at any other time in history.

In the $60 billion dollar cocoa trade, Cote d’Ivoire is the leading exporter. Many major chocolate companies buy from these suppliers. Ever scarier, the majority of these buyers either know about the exploitation of workers used to produce this cocoa, or they don’t care enough to investigate the legality of their purchases. The more chocolate we eat, the more children are forced into slavery to deal with the demand – and hence, the more profit big corporations make.

Several well known companies indulge in this illegal practice. Some may surprise you – they include Nestle, Hershey, Cadbury and one that particularly shocked me, Lindt. If the companies were to switch to legal suppliers, they would only lose a maximum of 1% of their profits. Only seven companies that sell in Australia have been proven to be completely slave free.

This practice is a serious miscarriage of justice, and prevents those on the farms from the innocent childhood they deserve. And so we need to change it.

There are many possibilities. International cooperation? Establishment of government legislation? The slow, if possible, eradication of slavery via international forces?

Or the installation of a fair and just trade system? Oh, wait, we already have that… Fairtrade. Fair trade is a trading partnership which aims to reach equity in international trade. They do this by paying workers fair prices, assisting them to gain skills and knowledge needed to operate as a business, and by challenging unfair trade practices. Fair trade also holds campaigns to raise awareness and funds for supporting the producers.

As someone very close to me said, “I care about them, and want to do things for them, but it’s not like I’m going to hop on a plane and protest in their capital city.” And ladies and gentlemen, I’m not asking you to. All I’m asking you to do is make a stand. Don’t buy chocolate from companies who buy cocoa from slave owners. Don’t spend your money on companies which will continue to exploit human beings in this way. Buy your chocolate from Fair Trade companies instead. By boycotting questionable companies, you are making a statement. You are saying “I do not approve of using children in this manner, and I want it to stop.” Buy the right brands, and give these children a chance.


So, put your hand in the air if you like Fair Trade chocolate.

More than half the audience raised their hands…

I am now convicted. No more slave chocolate for me. MissN’s authenticity and integrity is admirable. She has decided to return the chocolates she was selling as a fundraiser for her school’s drama trip to New York, and give in a donation instead.

I challenge you to research for yourself what is involved in producing the chocolate you eat, and to think about what action you are willing to take.

James 5: 1, 4

Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you.

For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

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14 Responses to “Chocolate and child slavery”

  1. MellissaD Says:

    Which are the brands that use Fair Trade cocoa?

  2. wjcsydney Says:

    Hi Melly, MissN and I didn’t list them as they change. For instance Green and Black’s WAS Fair Trade and then they were bought out and I think only the Mayan Gold is fair Trade atm. And hopefully more and more will become Fair Trade, so the list should grow. So research for yourself and check labels when you are buying. This list looks up to date http://souleconomy.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/chocolateguide.pdf

  3. Linda Says:

    Thank you Wendy & especially you Miss N for educating me more on the issues in Africa involving children. My nephew and niece had already started on that process earlier this year when they told me about the “Invisible Children”.
    I am beginning to think it puts us adults to shame when the young people of this world have to educate the elders! I am so proud of them though! They are not taking a back seat to very important issues!

  4. Kelley Says:

    Bravo MissN! Brilliant speech.

    Checking out the link right now.

  5. Marina Says:

    Great speech Miss N .. and congrats on the win!
    I knew about child slavery … but not in the cocoa industry. I think I’ll be thinking about the chocolate I’ll be eating now … probably a good time to stop buying, period!

  6. MistressB Says:

    Consumption Rebellion keeps a close eye on the coffee and chocolate produced by child slaves and the companies who use it in their products. She recently posted that Cadbury are making moves to make their products fair trade. http://consumption-rebellion.blogspot.com/2009/09/round-up-for-weekend-events-happening.html

    My children’s piano teacher was trying to find a brand of chocolate that made something snack size to give to her students for treats so was very pleased to discover that Cadbury are making some changes.

  7. nick gill Says:

    AWW, now why’d you have to go and tell me this??? *sigh* Good thing I like white chocolate.

    Seriously, though — this sounded like one of Patrick Mead’s Hidden People stories! Great job sharing it with us!

  8. Warren Baldwin Says:

    Powerful article. Systemic evil at its worst, something we participate in without giving thought to (or many being remotely aware of). Think of Prov. 21:13 and 21:15.

    Linked here from Wade’s blog.

  9. Kit Says:

    HI Wendy. Thanks for coming by my blog. This is a fascinating but dismaying post. I never knew how bad it was. And Lindt is currently my favourite chocoate 😦 Now I’ve got to go and check what I can eat without my conscience kicking me.

  10. ozjane Says:

    Thanks for your visit. I was unaware of this situation……I know things were bad in that country and like you I am shocked by Lindt…maybe we all need to write and tell them we know and strongly disagree. I have always been wary of cadbury and nestle ….Come quickly Lord Jesus.

  11. CraigSnedeker Says:

    I wish there were more we can do. But I’ve stopped eating chocolate by these companies. They won’t get my support again

  12. Mike Says:

    Hey, Wendy.
    MissN gave a compelling speech. I somehow wish I’d known it sooner. I was surprised to see that Starbucks is on the good list since here in America it’s presented as such a horrible, greed driven corporation. I’m guilty of buying tainted chocolate & didn’t even know it. I’ll be passing this along here. I hate slavery in any form, but when it involves children, I get downright dangerous. Hits too close to home.

  13. jbw0123 Says:

    Thank you. I recently posted a blog on the same topic, and found your entry very helpful. It’s so hard to reach for the more expensive options on the shelf! Still, it was heartening to research the subject and find so many people thinking, writing and doing something about child slavery — like you. Great blog.

  14. Tina Rae Collins Says:

    Wow, this brought cold chills, Wendy. Thank you for sharing it! And thanks to MissN!

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