Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Would you pay for child slave labour-free chocolate bars?

CC Image: cocoa beans

Today is Valentine’s Day, the day of chocolate treats. But have you ever considered where your chocolate comes from? Like, at the beginning of the supply chain, with cocoa beans? Neither had I, until a few days ago. Now, my appetite for chocolate has substantially diminished, especially knowing that most of the chocolate I have eaten to date has likely not been child slave labour-free.

The chocolate industry is a multi-billion dollar global industry including key players such as Nestle and Hershey. The world loves chocolate. Our waistlines may be a testament to that.

About 60% of the world’s cocoa beans are grown in the poor West African countries of the Ivory Coast and Ghana. We depend on these countries for our chocolate, but these governments depend on cocoa for the revenue they provide in taxes. The locals depend on cocoa, simply to put food on the table.

Such inequity has led to one of the worst forms of child labour. Children are trafficked in these two countries, working long hours harvesting cocoa beans, often with dangerous equipment like machetes, with little food, no school, and no pay. Money goes to their traffickers, who are often family members who desperately need the money.

This grave problem is highlighted in an eye-opening documentary that was recently aired on the CBC (available only for another month). A BBC journalist bravely goes undercover in these poor countries to determine for himself the extent of child slave labour, as well as what the world’s cocoa companies are doing to remedy both child trafficking, and inequities leading to trafficking (it turns out unsurprisingly, not nearly enough).

The journalist also poses as a cocoa bean buyer and makes some chocolate of his own: a chocolate bar made with 100% child labour, clearly marked and all. Would you buy it after seeing this? Probably not; all of those interviewed were appalled. But would you pay more for child slave labour-free chocolate?     

This demonstrates clearly that things we do on one side of the world can have far reaching effects. Our demand for chocolate in the West fuels child labour. Not knowing is one reason for inaction, but now we know; meaning that now there are no excuses for not demanding and paying more for child slave labour-free chocolate. The next step will be a labeling issue, like Fair trade coffee, allowing us to recognize the more socially responsible companies. 

Global health should be everybody’s problem.