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Lori Rivas: Chocolate’s bitter side

Democratic Voices

Posted: October 23, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 23, 2012 2:00 a.m.

“Cote d’Ivoire is a source, transit and destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor ... the majority of victims are children ... boys from Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, and Ghana are ... forced (into) agricultural labor, including ... cocoa” — U.S. State Department “Trafficking in Persons” report, 2012

“Underage cocoa workers ... spend their days wielding machetes, handling pesticides and carrying heavy loads. ... This type of child labor isn’t supposed to exist. ... Yet today child workers, many under the age of 10, are everywhere.” — “Chocolate’s Bittersweet Economy,” by Christian Parenti, Feb. 15, 2008, CNN

“Tulane’s representative household surveys, as well as survey research carried out by the governments of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana with industry support ... have confirmed the prevalence of child labor in the cocoa sector ... (only) about 5 percent of children in agricultural households in cocoa-growing regions ... work for pay.” — “Oversight of Public and Private Initiatives to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana,” Tulane University, March 31, 2011, Page 7.

The majority of the world’s cocoa harvest comes from West Africa: Mars, Cadbury, Hershey and Nestlé all source primarily form the Ivory Coast. The relatively low price American consumers pay for chocolate has a direct impact on production costs of cacao farmers, many of whom, as a result, depend on child labor.

Child slave labor, in fact.

We’re not talking about children working on the family farm, or even children working after school, learning life skills. We’re talking about children that are taken from their homes, trafficked onto cacao farms, forced to perform hazardous work, for 12-hour days, deprived of schooling, often abused, and used as slaves or in debt bondage. Most children never get paid.

In 2001, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced legislation to label qualified chocolate products as “slave free.” Passing the House by a large margin, the bill never came up for vote in the Senate because Big Chocolate hired former senators George Mitchell and Bob Dole to lobby against its passage. Instead, chocolate manufacturers, congressmen and the ambassador to the Ivory Coast agreed to sign the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which was a industry-regulated plan to eliminate “the worst forms of child labor” on cocoa farms.

The 2005 deadline was not met, and a extension was granted.The 2008 deadline was not met, and the target date was strertched to 2010. That deadline was not met, and the protocol was continued, once again.

To this day, the Harkin-Engel Protocol agreement has not been implemented, nor garnered proper independent certification.

The Big Chocolate industry has failed at self-regulation.

Know that with every bite of Hershey’s chocolate pleasure, you are colluding in the exploitation of child labor. Is that how you want to enjoy your luxuries?

If chocolate were labeled properly, the label would read “harvested with child slave labor.” Would you purchase a product, thus labeled so accurately?

Suddenly, that chocolate bar isn’t so sweet.

The truth is that as long as consumers demand low prices, as long as cacao prices remain very low, subsistence cocoa farmers will rely on free labor: There simply is no other way to cut production costs.

Thankfully, there is Fair Trade chocolate, an independent verification process by which consumers and manufacturers agree to pay above-market prices, while the farmer collective agrees to fair labor practices, and to invest in the local community.

Put another way, Fair Trade prices accurately reflect the true cost of farm workers, without compromising humanity, and without depending on government subsidies.

Where government agencies and corporations have failed to protect children in the harvest of cacao beans, we, the consumers, can make an impact.

For those who decry government intervention, those who proclaim the value of market forces, put your money where your mouth is: You can sustain the current system, which takes advantage of innocents, or you can purchase Fair Trade, which promises humane and fair operating procedures.

The true cost of cheap chocolate is child trafficking and forced slavery. Don’t place the burden of your chocolate craving on the lives of innocent children.

Look at your child, and imagine the life you hope for him.

Now, buy only Fair Trade chocolate.

“When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but a terror to evildoers.” — Proverbs 21:15

Lori Rivas, a resident of Newhall, buys her Fair Trade chocolate online and at local Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods markets. She will be passing out Yummy Earth and Trader Joe’s Organic lollipops to trick-or-treaters.


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