Chocolate: What lies beneath the wrappers
By Luiza Knijnik and Alex Knijnik
Photos by Daniel Rosenthal
Close your eyes and picture a yummy Kit-Kat melting in your mouth. What a wonderful sensation, with its nice crunchy texture. Now taste the children’s blood and suffering on it. It doesn’t taste good does it? But that’s what you eat every time you eat chocolate.
We all know the feeling of stubbing our toes but few of us know what it’s like to be threatened with a gun because you are too slow; we have all experienced the pain of a ball hitting your face, but few of us have experienced the pain of getting beaten when you make a minor mistake.
Child slavery has long been a global problem that persists in today's society. For those of us living here in Australia it is hard to imagine, but at this very moment there are over 9 million children being forced into slavery. 1.8 million children in the Cocoa industry experience the worst forms of child labour as recognised by the UN. Out of these 1.8 approximately 30,000 children have been forced into the industry. They are slaves. They are 12-16 years old, however some are as young as five. Can you imagine living like this?
West Africa produces over 67% of the world’s crop of cocoa beans. The Côte d’Ivoire grows 43% of the total world cocoa crop and use the worst forms of child labour to grow their produce. These cacao farms are run by families who are barely paid enough to survive. This leads to the farmers to look for cheap child labour, and in most cases these children end up as slaves:
These children are abducted, manipulated or sold to human traffickers into the industry and undergo horrific abuse and neglect in these farms. These children will probably never see their families again. They are not allowed to go to school and cannot enjoy their childhood. They are forced to work from dawn to dusk and when they are not working they are locked away in a room without windows.
They must carry sacks weighing 100 pounds full of cocoa beans, they must climb trees to cut cocoa beans with machetes, they are exposed to chemicals without protective wear and they are barely fed. Beatings are a part of their life with people being physically abused if they work too slowly or try and escape. Former cocoa slave Aly Diabate states: “The beatings were a part of my life. I had seen others who tried to escape. When they tried, they were severely beaten.”
We talked to the director of Slave Free Chocolate, Ayn Riggs to find out what else happened in cacao farms: “I have heard accounts of children having the bottoms of their feet slashed with razor blades so that they don't run away. I have heard accounts of kids being locked up in sheds at night and not fed much food at all. Mainly they survive on bananas.”
It is hard to comprehend that the 100-billion-dollar chocolate industry has done nothing to solve this problem they partly created. It is hard to get your head around the fact that the international and domestic courts have only done the bare minimum to try and get these companies to solve this issue.
The Harkin–Engel Protocol, sometimes referred to as the cacao protocol was a treaty signed in 2001 to end cacao farms that exploit children. Mars, Nestle, Ferrero and Hershey all promised that they would end the use of chocolate slavery by 2015 but sadly no change was made. This led onto the protocol’s deadline being extended onto 2020. However, there has not been any noticeable changes in the cacao farms.
We asked Slave Free Chocolate what the chocolate industry has been doing to solve this issue: “Only as of late, in fact, 15+ years after promising to remedy the situation, they have started to do some initiatives. Each large company makes a lot of claims and are using whatever certification label they want. Some are building a few schools, some are going into villages which are convenient and doing some education about child labour. Mostly paltry things that aren't enough and very late in the game.”
Chocolate slavery is a difficult problem to solve. But it needs to be done. The chocolate industry has the power to end chocolate slavery by paying coca farmers a living wage for their product. As Slave Free Chocolate director Ayn Riggs states “ I think ALL of the large chocolate companies should get together and agree to make sure all of the farmers are paid a real living wage price for their beans. Perhaps take cocoa off the commodities market. Fund centres like C.r.e.e.r. Africa (safe house for escaped slaves) and fund Interpol to do constant raids on the borders to catch traffickers.”
However, what can you do to help stop chocolate slavery?
The answer is very simple, stop buying brands that exploit these children. The most famous brands that use chocolate slaves are Ferrero, Hershey, Nestle, Lindt, Godiva and Mars and eating their chocolate just helps them exploit more. We as buyers have the power to force the companies that aren’t making any effort to do anything about this to change.
Whether it's hazelnut, dark chocolate or the simple taste of milk chocolate, all of us can still enjoy the taste of it in our mouths. But what we cannot do is enjoy the taste of blood.
For as a former chocolate slave, Drissa, once said “When you eat chocolate you’re eating my flesh.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Woke magazine.