Slaves to Chocolate  

Buzzflash recently invited me to purchase chocolate. I was flattered. They wanted me? 'lil ole' me to buy chocolate?

Actually what caught my eye was something that I had told an acquaintance about recently, that on the West Coast of Africa, children harvest cocoa

The U.S. State Department estimates that over 15,000 child-slaves work on plantations in the Ivory Coast. They have been kidnapped or sold by their parents to work from age 8 on cutting cocoa pods from trees and processing them, often at the end of a whip. In other countries of West Africa, children work with deadly chemicals, applying pesticides and fungicides to trees without wearing protective garments and without proper training. Amazingly, some of the cocoa used in popular confections - the chocolate you eat every day is grown and harvested under such conditions.

Although Buzz Flash had sent me an ad, the thread on Fair Trade and child labor is what made me think.

In the late 1800's early 1900's, a courageous grand-standing obnoxious woman named Mother Jones brought about the end of child labor in the US by putting the evidence into the faces of everyone she could find, including President Teddy Roosevelt.

In 1903 Jones organized children working in mills and mines in the "Children's Crusade", a march from Kensington, Pennsylvania to Oyster Bay, New York, the home of President Theodore Roosevelt with banners demanding "We want time to play!" and "We want to go to school!" Though the President refused to meet with the marchers, the incident brought the issue of child labor to the forefront of the public agenda.

Mother Jones was one hell of a PR person. She understood better than most that the face of the miners had to be the face of their families, especially their children who had to work in the mines.

But where in Côte d'Ivoire is Mother Jones? Who is working to bring justice and equality to the farmers and their families today?

Well, according to the Voice of America's report, it doesn't look like anyone is. Mostly, that's because o how dangerous it is to even investigate the corruption in the industry:

Investigating the cocoa sector can also be dangerous business. Global Witness claims Ivorian journalists and human rights activists investigating the sector have been beaten and intimidated. In 2004, French-Canadian journalist Guy-Andre Kieffer disappeared in Abidjan, where he was also investigating cocoa corruption allegations. He has not been heard of since.

EU diplomat Rensi echoes the assessment of many.

"It's obvious that the Franco-Canadian journalist Kieffer was kidnapped and most likely murdered because of his investigation in the sector. So it's obviously a very dangerous sector because it fuels the crisis," Rensi said.

The issue here isn't that complex. It's about money and land. It's about who controls the country's resources be it diamonds in Sierra Leone, Oil in Nigeria or Cocoa in Côte d'Ivoire, in the end, conflicts in these areas are about power, money and control. And we are talking about a lot of money, according to Global Witness campaigner Maria Lopez:

"We calculated that over $118 million of the cocoa trade benefitted both sides of the armed conflict in Cote d'Ivoire [Ivory Coast]," Lopez said. "About $60 million was diverted by the government's war effort within a relatively short period of time - from the beginning of the war, in September 2002 to December 2003. And we calculated that about $60 million was made out of the cocoa trade in the Forces Nouvelles [rebel] area within a couple of years.

To make this entire effort profitable, children are "imported" from Mali to work on cocoa farms in Cote' d'voire. These children are brutalized for profit.

Aly Diabate, who is from Mali, was eleven years old when he was lured in Mali by a slave trader to go work on an Ivorian farm. The locateur told him that not only would he receive a bicycle, but he could also help his parents with the $150 he would earn. However life on the cocoa farm of "Le Gros" (or "Big Man") was nothing like Aly had imagined. He and the other workers had to work from six in the morning to about 6:30 at night on the cocoa fields. Since Aly was only about four feet tall, the bags of cocoa beans were taller than him. To be able to carry and transport the bags, other people would have to place the bags onto his head for him. Because the bags were so heavy, he had trouble carrying them and always fell down. The farmer would beat him until he stood back up and lifted the bag again. Aly was beaten the most because the farmer accused him of never working hard enough. The little boy still has the scars left from the bike chains and cocoa tree branches that Le Gros used. He and the other slaves were not fed well either. They had to subsist on a few burnt bananas.

Yet when nightfall came, Aly's torture did not end. He and eighteen other slave workers had to stay in their one room that measured 24-by-20 feet. The boys all slept on a wooden plank. There was but one small hole just big enough to let in some air. Aly and the others had to urinate in a can, because once they went into the room, they were not allowed to leave. To ensure this, Le Gros would lock the room.

Despite the horrendous conditions that he was living in, Aly was too afraid to escape. He had seen others who had attempted escapes, only to be brutally beaten after they got caught. However one day, a boy from the farm successfully escaped and reported Le Gros to the authorities. They arrested the farmer and sent the boys back home. The police made Le Gros pay Aly $180 for the eighteen months he had worked. Now Aly is back with his parents in Mali, but the scars, both physical and psychological still remain. He admitted that after he first came back from the farm, he had nightmares about the beatings every night. Aly was fortunate that the authorities were alerted about the slavery that was present at Le Gros' farm, but many other children are not as lucky and are still being subjected to the beatings and overall dehumanization on these cocoa farms.

Exploitation like Aly's is able to exist because of the secretiveness of the abuse. The Ivorian farms are usually small and located in areas around which most people do not travel. In fact, many actors in the cocoa trade have never even visited these remote farms. Even if one were able to visit the farms, sometimes it is difficult to tell whether the children have been bought or are part of the family. (Chatterjee, "How your Chocolate May be Tainted").

Knight Ridder did a series on conditions in the fields and the trade of cocoa in 2001. It's very sad to see that these conditions continue to exist.

It's issues like those in the cocoa fields that remind me of how connected labor rights are with poverty, society and ultimately human rights. I just wonder now where the Ivorian Mother Jones is right now.

How to Buy Non-Slave Labor Chocolates

Buy Fair Trade Chocolates

This is the way to combat child labor while still supporting the local economies.

I’m not a fan of NAFTA, CAFTA, PFTA or granting China special trade status. I know, that's no surprise to anyone who's read any of my labor series pieces, but I always feel as if I need to say it again and again.

These trade agreements are not fair to American workers and certainly aren't fair to the workers in the trade partners who often work in deplorable conditions, with few rights and for little pay. In the end, I believe that Free trade is never free and never fair. But, don’t’ take my word for it, take a look at a Public Citizen report on the 2006 election results. Here’s just a snipit

Democrats generally have coalesced in favor of trade policy reform over the past decade as President Clinton’s NAFTA, WTO and China trade deals not only failed to deliver the promised benefits, but caused real damage. The GOP “stayed the course” on a failed trade policy and conducted high-profile fights to expand a status quo most Americans reject.

The balance of power between everyday people and corporations shifted dramatically in employers’ favor when CEOs could use trade agreements’ foreign investor privileges to re-locate overseas with an array of new rights and protections in their new low-wage venues. Products made by these relocated operations were guaranteed duty-free or low-tariff re-entry to the United States. Meanwhile, at home, corporations increasingly invoked the threat of moving overseas to squash everything from wage-increase demands to unionization drives. As the threat of off-shoring has moved rapidly up the job ladder, with academic studies and even corporate consultancies projecting that tens of millions of U.S. professional and service sector jobs could be off-shored in the foreseeable future, concern about where our current trade policies are leading has expanded.

So, how can you support Fair Trade? How can any of us do it on an individual level? It’s not that hard.

1. Look into what Fair Trade is and how it helps communities all over the world.
2. Find products that you like and look for the Fair Trade certification. Don’t see it, tell the producer you want Fair Trade certified products.

And, you can also try some of these chocolates below, from a list of Fair Trade Chocolate Companies. They have passed the screening and review of the Fair Trade Federation and Co-op America's Green Business Network:

A World Away, Atlantic Beach, FL

Alter Eco, San Francisco, CA

Ananse Village, Fort Bragg, CA

Bean North Coffee Roasting Company,
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada

Café Humana, Seattle, WA,
Dean’s Beans, Orange, MA, 800/325-3008,

Divine Chocolate USA, Washington, DC,

Equal Exchange, West Bridge, MA,

Equita, Pittsburgh, PA

Fair World Gallery, West Des Moines, IA,

Fair World Marketplace, DeWitt, NY

Global Exchange Fair Trade Store,
San Francisco, CA 800/505-4410,

Grounds for Change , Poulsbo, WA,

Ithaca Fine Chocolates , Ithaca, NY,

La Siembra Cooperative, Inc., Ottowa,
Ontario, Canada, 613/235-6122,

Providence Coffee, Faribault, MN,

SERRV International, Madison, WI,

Shaman Chocolates, Soquel, CA,

Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates,
San Luis Obispo, CA. 805/544-7759,

Yachana Gourmet, Batavia, NY.

Slaves to Chocolate or you can also read what originally inspired me on Buzz Flash.

Buy Local

When I wrote the original Slaves to Chocolate Diary, lots of people contributed links to Fair Trade chocolates, local chocolatiers and organic chocolates. Buying locally is fantastic, because local producers often buy from small farms in Latin America. I'm always one of those buy local people, this Phoenix based local chocolatier sounds like a winner. Here's a review of them.

My favorite local chocolatier in DC is J Chocolatier. You can buy through her website or head down to Eastern Market. When I met her and had the sheer pleasure of tasting her chocolates, she did note that she isn’t at Eastern Market every weekend, but she does sell there. I found her at the Winter Market near Gallery Place in December. I can't recommend her enough.

What impressed me about J Chocolatier is that she understood my Fair Trade questions and was more than willing to not only explain how she makes her chocolates but also where the chocolate comes from, including that she buys from a company that buys from co-op farmers. From her site:

We do not use preservatives, extracts, concentrates or flavorings. We use chocolate couverture from El Rey of Venezuela and Valrhona of France. The beans from El Rey are single origin Criollo beans, the most coveted in the world. El Rey buys their beans from small farmers in Venezuela who grow their crop under the shade of the jungle canopy. El Rey is committed to biodiversity and pays their farmers premium prices for the high quality beans that they produce.

So, then I looked up the company she buys from in order to make her chocolates, I learned this from El Rey:

El Rey offers consumers gourmet chocolate made from fairly traded cacao beans direct from small and large-scale growers in Venezuela. In our business there is no extraordinary cast of middlemen, otherwise known as “coyotes”, who pay the lowest price to growers. On the contrary, El Rey seeks to balance the inequities found in the conventional third world trade by having established Aprocao, which is a democratically run cooperative managed by El Rey and which pays above-market prices for its cacao beans.

Our trading partners are small growers and large who deal directly with Aprocao without intermediaries. Through Aprocao El Rey teaches growers how to manage the soil in a sustainable agricultural system promoting natural cycles without chemical pesticides or fertilizers and how to ferment each cacao harvest to earn the best price.

If you live in the DC area, consider buying locally made J Chocolatier chocolates. If you don’t live in the DC area, perhaps a comment from the Slaves to Chocolate diary can help you locate local chocolates that are either Fair Trade or Organic (and some are both):

Tell Them what you think about all of this

There are a lot of companies who you can register your dissatisfaction with, in fact, you can start with these:

M&M Mars and Hershey Foods Corp. are not alone. Other companies whose chocolate is almost certainly tainted with child slavery include: ADM Cocoa, Ben & Jerry's, Cadbury Ltd., Chocolates by Bernard Callebaut, Fowler's Chocolate, Godiva, Guittard Chocolate Company, Kraft, Nestle, See's Candies, The Chocolate Vault, and Toblerone. While most of these companies have issued condemnations of slavery, and expressed a great deal of moral outrage that it exists in the industry, they each have acknowledged that they use Ivory Coast cocoa and so have no grounds to ensure consumers that their products are slavery-free.

Some of these names may have now come off this list, but I couldn't locate the information about that; if you have linkable info post it in comments so I can remove or add chocolatier’s to this list.

If your local chocolate producer doesn’t know if their West African chocolates are produced using child slave labor, suggest to them that they should know and perhaps, they should also take their business elsewhere, say to co-operative chocolate producing farms in Central and South America. A suggestion like this coming from a customer carries a lot of weight. If this is something that means a great deal to you, then tell them. They may be glad to hear it.

Whatever you decide to do today, keep in mind that buying chocolate is like tossing a pebble into a river, there will always be ripples, let’s make the ripples good tidings, not bad.

This was cross posted on Daily Kos for the Winter holidays and also for Valentine’s day


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