Human Rights, Politiks

The suffering behind chocolate

Each fruit harvested on the Ivory Coast cacao plantations contains the tears of enslaved little girls and boys, the majority of whom have been brought there by smugglers.

Silvio Martínez Puentes

Almost half of all chocolate consumed on Earth comes from the Ivory Coast, where thousands of children between the ages of 10 and 14 end up, having been sent from West and Central Africa.

The traffickers get €230 for every child brought to the owners of the plantations growing the once-called “food of the Gods”, yet the minors are forced to work for pennies.

The most expensive chocolate in the world is by French chocolatier Theodorus Cornelius and costs around €350.

It is quite a contrast to think that, to satisfy their palate, there are people willing to pay a similar sum to that of a child in exchange for a piece of chocolate, the fruit of pain and misery.

The accusing finger of such maltreatment is pointed at the transnational companies, at the passive consumers, at the parents who are driven by the most appalling poverty to sell their offspring, and, most of all, at the human race, impassively tolerating such barbarity in the 21st century.

Reports come and go

The documentary “The Dark side of chocolate”, by Danish director Miki Mistrati, showed, a few years ago, how the industry benefits from slavery and child trafficking.

“It was terribly easy to find child labour”, Mistrati explained, recounting his two trips to West Africa, where he visited 17 different cacao plantations and “children were working on all of them”.

The producers take advantage of such cheap labour, forcing the children to harvest the beans and to carry bags weighing up to 20 kilograms during the 12 hour working day.

Some sources, such as the BBC documentary “Chocolate: The Bitter Truth”, highlight that the harvesters are being paid the same price for cacao today as they were 40 years ago.

However, on the international market, as has happened with many other foods, the sale price has increased by 300% in the last decade.  This imbalance is used to justify the child labour trade.

Made by “child labour”

Among the limited efforts to put an end to this scourge, a few ideas have fallen by the wayside, such as labelling each product with the source of production – something along the lines of “Made by child labour” – which, of course, did not take off.

Encouraging consumers to boycott the scandalous trade of “brown gold” has not had an impact either.

Hershey, Nestlé and other transnational consortia have sporadically been the target of such campaigns, but, after a little while, people forget that each gram of cacao harvested in the Ivory Coast is the result of child slavery.

Out of the many tasty types of sweet, chocolate, in its various forms, is the one preferred by the masses and a children’s favourite.

It is ironic that the vast majority of the girls and boys harvesting the original product, cacao, do not even know that chocolate exists and have never eaten a sweet.

Lost hope

For decades, children from the poorer countries have been exploited in mines, quarries, farms, and even recruited for war, prostitution and the arms and drugs trades.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) set 2016 as the target by which the worst forms of child labour are to be eliminated.

However, shortly after deciding this, the organisation admitted that “efforts are slowing down” and called for a “re-energised” global campaign to put an end to the iniquity.

Beforehand, it was announced that, between 2004 and 2008, the number of child labourers internationally had decreased from 222 million to 215 million, a figure that was circulated by many different news agencies.

A quick calculation shows that, in four years, the number of minors exploited through child labour has barely fallen by 3% and, at this rate, by 2016 (thinking optimistically) the figure might just be reduced by 15%.

Yet, although in its global report on the subject, the ILO confirmed a reduction in the number of child workers from the ages of 5 to 14, conversely, the number of 15 to 17 year olds had increased by 20%, from 52 million to 62 million.

The most recent global analysis carried out in The Hague, the Netherlands, established a Roadmap “to agree on significantly intensified efforts” in the interests of reaching the 2016 goal.

“But let’s not mistake ourselves: [the Roadmap] does not mark the end of our concerted efforts, quite the contrary.  We must keep on meeting and working together”, advised Piet Hein Donner, Minister of Social Affairs and Employment in the Netherlands.

(Translated by Kelly Harrison – Email: kelly.v.harrison@gmail.com)

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