Last month, on Valentine’s Day did you either give or receive a box of chocolates? If you did, there was a regrettable chance that the box of wonderful candy was tainted by the labor of enslaved children.
Few Americans knew anything about the problem of child labor on cocoa farms of the Ivory Coast until after 2001 when the media exposed the scandalous conditions under which most U.S. chocolate is made. Children, as young as 11 and 12 year’s old are forced into slave labor and must work 12 or 13 hours a day under truly brutal conditions. After the exposé, Senator Tom Harkin (Democrat of Iowa) introduced a bill to require U.S. chocolate companies by force of law to certify that their products are slave free. Fearing regulation, the chocolate industry quickly announced a four year plan to clean up its supply chain without legislation.
I am happy to report that many of the companies supplying the American market did clean their work up and now produce their chocolate clearly indicating that they are fair trade certified. One major company that continues to benefit from a very clear form of child labor is the Hershey company. They argue that they do not own the plantations. They simply buy the material from the growers. However, the fact is they, like the other companies that made the switch to fair trade, could easily pressure the growers to stop child slavery.
We all love chocolate but is it worth the agony and suffering of 12 year old kids?