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Chocolate and Human Trafficking

Monday, 4 June 2012  | Carolyn Kitto

Diabate and Traor had left their village in Mali to go to Ivory Coast looking for enough money to afford a bicycle, but they were sold to a man who had paid 50,000 West African Francs (about $100) for the two boys and he wanted the money back - in labour. The boys from Sirkasso met about twenty others in the same predicament and learned that no-one was ever paid. They slept in a rectangle-shaped mud hut that initially had windows but when some boys found they could escape during the night, the windows were sealed shut. Diabate and Traor remember eating mostly bananas, though they would gobble up the cocoa beans, as others did, whenever they got the chance. Many months passed, and the boys forgot what the purpose had once been for this adventure. Life became a struggle to exist, then hardened to despair. They gave up thinking of escape. They were under constant threat of beatings if they were caught trying to flee and they had seen several boys treated savagely. They were actually spooked by a belief that they were under a spell.

Did you enjoy eating chocolate at Easter? Some sweet treats on Mothers' Day? Well, STOP THE TRAFFIK would like the chocolate experience to be enjoyable for everyone, from beginning to end. Regrettably it has been known since 2001 that the harvesting of cocoa beans is being done by children, some as young as 5 or 6, in West African countries. Worse still, some of these children are actually being kidnapped, or their parent(s) are being tricked into effectively selling them into slavery. 75-80% of the world's harvest comes from these regions, so chances your Easter and Mothers' Day chocolate contained some of these beans.

A 2002 report by the U.S Department of State estimated that there were 109,000 children working in conditions considered to be hazardous on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire. Around 10,000 children were victims of human trafficking or enslavement.  The work that is required of these children includes being exposed to dangerous pesticides and chemicals, using machetes, travelling great distances and working in the blistering heat for long hours for little or no pay. The work is often hazardous in nature and more often than not interferes with their education. Along with this, there have been reports of children being subjected to beatings and abuse by their employers. According to International labour standards set out by the International Labour Organisation, in most cases this work is considered to be some of the ‘worst forms of child labour’.

From 1980-2000 the price of cocoa began to decrease dramatically due to over-supply and market liberalisation in these countries that did not yet have safeguards in place to protect the income of producers. The use of child and forced labour began to increase, as some farmers could only make a living by paying little or no money for the labour needed to produce the cocoa.

Big chocolate companies around the world promised they would address this problem by 2004. Now in 2012, the problem still exists and the progress is painfully slow. In fact as an industry, the buying and selling of humans, is on the increase. It is now the second largest illegal industry in the world, between the drug and arms trade. Mostly women and children are the victims in everything from labour, to child soldiers, to organ trafficking to the sex industry. We can no longer say it is nothing to do with us as we all own and consume products which have had trafficking and enslaving of other human beings as a part of their production. It is something which should be shocking to us all and we should do something about it.

William Wilberforce, the Christian social reformer to whom the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade is attributed, also found the progress incredibly slow. It wasn't until he pointed out to people, that the sugar they were putting in their tea was provided for them through the pain and suffering of slaves, that he got action. He invited people to give up sugar and the impact on industry made them sit up and listen.

We are inviting people all over the world to exercise their consumer choice and decide to purchase and eat chocolate which the manufacturer assures you does not have child and human trafficking in its production. The easiest way to know this is to look for one of 3 certification logos on your chocolate. A logo from Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance or UTZ Certified, means the supply chain has been checked and your chocolate is Traffik-free.

Chocolate companies will often use words like ‘Sustainable’, ‘Ethical’ and ‘Responsible’ to describe their practices. Unless these words are clearly defined, they are in fact meaningless. Companies must include labour conditions in their definition of what these terms mean. Campaigners are also asking that the companies have third party, independently verified auditing of their cocoa supply. This kind of third party certification is provided by Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified and Fairtrade. All these certifications ensure labour conditions do not include worst forms of child labour or human trafficking.

Many chocolate companies are engaging in poverty alleviation programs which are laudable. However, they do not provide the auditing we are seeking to ensure there is no slavery in the supply chain of chocolate production. Many such programs are involved in increasing crop yield and improving farming methods. This is actually beneficial for the chocolate companies as they seek to meet the ever increasing sales of their products world-wide. Increasing a farm’s productivity does not address the issue of the labour conditions of the workers on those farms. Most poverty programs are on a small scale and do not have the impact required to end trafficking. Since campaigning started on this issue in 2001 the world’s chocolate industry has earned $1.2 trillion and they have invested only 0.0075% in improving conditions in West Africa.

The bible talks us about being accountable – not just for the things that we do wrong – but also for the situations where we failed to do what is right. We can do right. We can change the chocolate industry, We can change industry. We can STOP THE TRAFFIK.

What can you do?
1. Join STOP THE TRAFFIK (www.stopthetraffik.org) and be part of their campaigns to end trafficking and slavery globally
2. Exercise your power as a consumer to only purchase certified chocolate. STOP THE TRAFFIK has a Good Chocolate Guide to help you with your purchases on their website.
3. Tell your friends about this issue, we must spread the story and be the change the world needs.

You can also find a range of statistics on the STOP THE TRAFFIK website which you can use:


Carolyn Kitto is the Australian Co-ordinator for STOP THE TRAFFIK

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