We chose Valentine’s Day for the third part of the series about slavery since today is the day humans commercialize love, most iconically by consuming chocolate for the ones they care for on the expense of the ones they don’t.
Chocolate is one of the unofficial symbols of modern slavery, the topic of this post.
There should be no wonder that humans, who express virtually everything through consumption, have commercialized love and affection, buying chocolate for the ones they care for. Unfortunately there is also no wonder that at the same time they care so little for the ones who picked the cacao for their consumerist gesture.
58 million pounds of chocolate candy are purchased during the week before Valentine’s Day in the United States alone. Globally, the chocolate industry is worth an estimated $110 billion a year, and yet cacao, the key ingredient, is grown by some of the poorest people on earth, in plantations that use some of the worst forms of child labor.
70% of cacao comes from West Africa where about 1.8 million children work while totally vulnerable to brutal labor practices, including trafficking and slavery.
Trafficking of children for child labor in cacao farms is especially prevalent in Côte d’Ivoire, which is the main world producer of cacao beans with about 40% of the global production.
Tens of thousands of extremely poor children, from the neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso as well as from Côte d’Ivoire itself, are abducted or tempted by traffickers who promise them good payment if they come to work in the Ivory Coast. Other children are “sold” to traffickers or farm owners by their own relatives.
These children find themselves enslaved in cacao farms, working from six in the morning until the evening, cracking thousands of cacao pods each day with sharp machetes, lifting and carrying heavy loads, working with pesticides unprotected. Although the majority of children have scars on their hands, arms, legs or shoulders from the machetes, there is no access to medical care when needed.
Some children are held on the farms against their will, and those that attempt to leave are severely beaten. Some are even being whipped for trying to escape or for working slowly. Reporters have also documented cases where children and adults were locked in at night to prevent them from escaping.
Most of the children are between the ages of 11 and 16, but reporters have found children as young as 5.
Many are forced to live in poor conditions where no one looks after them and they are forced to forage for food. In some cases, the children sleep on wooden planks in small windowless buildings with no access to clean water or sanitary bathrooms.
It is not uncommon for pay to be withheld for an entire year, and when the children complain or try to leave, the farmers inform them that they had not yet worked enough. Those that do manage to get paid after two to three years of work receive much less than expected with some receiving little more than the cost of a bus ticket home, or nothing at all.
Most will not see their families for years, if ever.
The global cacao industry has known about this issue for many years and in 2001 was even forced to a commitment to eradicate it. However, very little has been done by multinational chocolate manufacturers who encourage developing nations to grow more cacao, forcing prices down and choosing to overlook obvious cases of child slavery.
Since the economies of the West African countries depend on cacao (60% of the Ivory Coast’s export revenue comes from its cacao and nearly 40% of the population is involved in cacao farming) it is hard to see the end of this form of slavery. Certainly as long as the key players benefit from it without pressure from the only relevant factor for that matter which is the consumption rate, namely chocolate’s consumers.
Fair Trade is not really a fair option considering the extremely hard labor of the farmers, the fact that it doesn’t lift them out of poverty (and doesn’t intend to either, since basically it mainly sets a minimum price for the produce so the farmers won’t get even poorer in case of drop in prices), the fact that it discriminates the poorest farmers by demanding a few criterions in order to be part of fair trade cooperative which they can’t meet (the most prominent is owning their own land), the fact that it doesn’t discriminate between farms from different parts of the world, meaning setting the same requirements and annual fee for all of them and that’s why most of the fair trade farmers are from the richer South and Central America (and from the richer areas in South and Central America) and less are from the poorer Africa (and even less from the poorest areas of Africa), the fact that a few years ago Fair Trade USA decided to include large scale plantations as well as cooperatives of small producers, which in many ways counters the original goal which is to protect small and poor farmers from big and rich ones, and the list goes on and on (for more information we recommend the following 3 articles 1,2,3). There are several academic studies about the effect of fair trade on poor families with very disappointing results. Obviously none of these problems are done intentionally by the foundations which their purposes are good, however this is not the point or the topic of this post nor of this series so we’ll only sum up with arguing that even if the system was much better, it is principally still an imperialistic observation on certain areas of the world which are encouraged to function as the westerners’ farmland only with less white guilt, a sort of neo-colonialism but with a much better branding.
More important and relevant for this discussion is not how practically ineffective fair trade is in the poorer parts of the world, but how relatively unpopular it is in the rich ones.
Most humans are not even willing to pay a few cents more for their luxury lifestyles anyway. Even if fair trade is mainly so that they can feel better about themselves (as in many cases it is not really making the farmers feel better) they waive the allegedly ethical option to save a few more cents.
Humans are not even willing to pay more for feeling politically correct so forget about being correct.
So far, the political sector, the private sector (the chocolate corporations) and the public sector have disappointed these children which their number has increased by 50% from 2009 to 2014. That is despite that child slavery in cacao farms is supposed to be the easiest to eradicate. There should be no controversies like in the more complex cases of labor exploitation such as sweatshops, or the cases in which the average human has a very limited option to influence (like some of the slavery methods that we’ll specify in the next post). It is not even a case of unnecessary slavery in a necessary industry, but of absolute luxuriousness. It is a case of some humans’ greed and the apathy of the rest.
And maybe the saddest thing about it is that unfortunately it is only a small part of the problem. As argued in the title of the article regarding slavery, there are more slaves today than ever in history. In the next part of this slavery series we’ll detail the rest of the modern slavery forms.