Recently I’ve read a number of articles regarding forced labour in the chocolate production factory. Contrary to what some ignorantly choose to believe, being part of chocolate manufacturing is nothing like Willy Wonka’s magical land of sweets. Working to harvest cocoa beans is no dream job, however many in western Africa have no choice but to labour under intense and dreadful conditions. Children as young as 7-years old are slaves to chocolate.
Over 75% of the world’s cocoa beans are harvested in Western Africa, while most of the cocoa beans end up transported out of Africa to richer parts of the world. This great demand for chocolate calls for a great number of workers to work in grueling conditions picking the beans, drying them, processing them, and transporting them before they are shipped out of the continent. Where do these “chocolate factories” get all their manpower? Many find young boys who have been sold, tricked, or even kidnapped to work on their farms.
Living on the farm is a painful fate. Day in and day out, the workers are made to clear fields and pick beans regardless of the whether. If ever the boss felt the boys weren’t working hard enough, he would beat them. There is one rule on the farm: as long as the you could stand, you would work. If this rule was broken, dire punishment was delivered. Often the the “Le Gros”, or “Big Man”, would beat the boys with old bike chains or cocoa branches leaving cuts and scars on their backs.
After a 12 1/2 hours at work each day, the young boys would be locked together in a cramped, windowless shed. A bucket is placed in the shed to serve as the boys’ toilet, adding to the vile living conditions of their home. In the tiny room, around 18 boys would spend the night each night, only let out to work the next day.
Articles I’ve read recently have claimed that major chocolate companies such as Hershey’s and Nestlé have been working to provide slave free chocolate or what is considered “fair trade.” As of now however, little progress has been made in improving the working conditions of the chocolate slaves of Western Africa. Fair trade and organic cocoa does exist, but majority of it originates in Latin America. African cocoa production has yet to be greatly affected by the movement of fair trade.
While Fair Trade chocolate is indeed making it easier for us chocolate lovers to find ethically produced chocolate, the “fair trade” label does make mistakes and can accidentally overlook injustices. While we may not be able to travel to Africa and physically stop each unethical cocoa farm, we can cause change by the actions we take. Try buying chocolate that you can be sure is made ethically. Find the origin of your chocolate, Latin America is usually a safe bet. Spread the word and let others know that the magical chocolate factory is a complete fantasy. Choose to live for the benefit of other, even if they are half way across the earth.