Hundreds of thousands of children are being purchased from their parents, or outright stolen, and then shipped to Ivory Coast, where they are enslaved on cocoa farms. Destitute parents in these poverty-stricken lands sell their children to traffickers believing that they will find honest work once they arrive in Ivory Coast and then send some of their earnings home. But that’s not the reality. The terrible reality is that these children, 11-to-16-years-old but sometimes younger, are forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, receive no education, are barely fed, are beaten regularly, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again.
Over a decade ago, two Congressmen, U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, attempted to remedy this issue. They introduced legislation mandating a labeling system for chocolate. After the deep pockets of the chocolate corporations protested, a compromise was reached that required chocolate companies to voluntarily certify they had stopped the practice of child labor. The certification process would not involve labeling products “child-labor-free,” as initially proposed. In my opinion, the movement lost its teeth at that point.
Instead of the “Child Labor Free” label, it called for public reporting by African governments, establishment of an audit system and poverty remediation by 2005. The deadline had to be extended to 2008 (read Fortune Magazine’s report on the state of the protocol in 2008) and again to 2010. Today, many aid groups say some of the provisions have still not been met, and it is the biggest corporations who refuse to comply.
Why should they? Child slavery allows them to sell cheap chocolate to a clueless US American public. The CEOs of these corporations make millions upon millions of dollars off of children suffering and dying. And so many people are completely unaware the problem even exists.
So the next time you reach for a candy bar, when you go to buy candy to hand out to trick or treaters or to stock your holiday candy dishes or include in your cookies, consider the price thousands of children are paying to bring you that chocolate.