As a chocolate aficionado, I can safely say that I consume chocolate on an almost daily basis. The sweet treat is something that I always have stashed in my backpack or purse, and it always leaves me with a smile on my face. However, I was surprised to learn that there is a sad and horrifying aspect to the chocolate industry. Thousands of young children have been bought and sold via human trafficking rings in order to work in the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast. This modern day slavery system has gone unnoticed by millions of consumers, and it is extremely important for people to learn about where and how their chocolate is produced.
The Ivory Coast is one of the most cocoa rich countries in the world, and produces almost half of the world’s supply of cocoa. Children from the Ivory Coast, as well as from neighboring countries like Mali and Burkina Faso, work in the cocoa fields with little food, no pay, and suffer from beating and life threatening accidents. According to a human rights report by the State Department in 2000, there are more than 15,000 children between the ages of 9 and 12 that have been bought and sold onto cocoa fields in the Ivory Coast. The number has steadily increased, and there are thousands of more youth working on the cocoa fields. Many of the children, who were either living in slums or told that they would be given money to help their impoverished parents, have never received the payments they were promised, and are kept from returning to their homes.
In 2001, the chocolate industry came under attack for the use of child labor and human trafficking, and promised to solve the issue by following through with the Harkin-Engel Protocol. The protocol’s main objective was to stop the use of child labor in chocolate production by the year 2005. However, chocolate companies asked for the deadline to be extended till 2008, and then asked for another extension till 2010. Today, in 2012, many companies like Hershey’s and Kraft-Cadbury state that they have been working relentlessly to end child slavery, but the task is long and arduous. Though these companies and many others state that they are working to end child slavery in cocoa fields, the fact is that this human rights issue has not been completely resolved under the protocol. In fact, the number of young children being connected to slavery on cocoa fields seems to have increased rather than decreased.
So the big question for us consumers, after learning about the atrocities of child slavery, is to ask ourselves what we can do. It is all well and good for us to read and be aware of the problem, but more importantly we need to do our part in helping bring an end to the issue. One way to help is simply by learning about where goods connected to slavery are usually from, and contacting retailers in order to learn about their practices. An excellent website, www.productsofslavery.org, provides people with an interactive map that shows goods like chocolate and coffee and their connection to slavery. The site also provides suggestions with what consumers like us can do to help bring an end to child slavery. Furthermore, we can all do our part by purchasing Fair Trade items, thus making sure that we do not buy goods connected to slavery. A Fair Trade app is also available for iPhones and Androids, and is an easy way to find Fair Trade items when on the run.
Child slavery in countries around the world is a serious crime against humanity, and is something that youth today can take a part in stopping. The Alliance for Positive Youth Development stresses youth to help make positive, sustainable impacts on the world, and focusing on aiding fellow children across the world is an excellent way in which young people can get involved in helping kids their own age. College, high school, middle school, and even elementary school youth can all get involved in bringing awareness to child labor by starting clubs and raising money to donate to UNICEF. Another excellent way to help end child slavery is by contacting Fair Trade companies or groups that are willing to come to schools, and set up a sale during the holiday season. This way, young people will be able to learn more about child slavery, and will be able to learn where they can purchase goods that are not affiliated with child labor. It is extremely important for youth to know that there are children across the world who are roped into slavery, and that they have an opportunity and responsibility to bring an end to this issue.