The Ugly Truth Behind Child Slaves And Your Halloween Chocolate

by John Haltiwanger

It's probably safe to say that a majority of people around the world love chocolate. It's delicious, and eating it releases endorphins in your brain. Simply put, it tastes good and it makes you feel good.

Not surprisingly, the average American consumes close to 11 pounds of chocolate per year. That's roughly 120 chocolate bars.

Halloween is coming up, and given Americans spend around $2 billion on candy alone for this holiday, it's reasonable to predict that a lot of chocolate will be purchased and consumed.

Yet, chocolate is also tied to one of the most sinister practices in the world: human trafficking. The majority of the world's cocoa comes from a part of the globe where children are often used as laborers, and sometimes even enslaved.

Thus, if you eat chocolate this Halloween, there's a chance that child slavery helped produce it.

Know What You're Eating: The Chocolate Industry Helps Fuel Child Labor In West Africa

There is a huge demand for chocolate around the world. Indeed, the chocolate industry is worth around $110 billion a year.

Chocolate is derived from cocoa beans, which grow in tropical climates. Around 70 percent of the world's cocoa beans come from places like Ivory Coast and Ghana in West Africa.

More than one-third comes from the Ivory Coast alone. Accordingly, around 10 million people in West Africa depend on cocoa farming as a source of income.

Yet, despite the fact that the chocolate industry is so lucrative, cocoa farmers live in poverty. Cocoa is vital to the production of chocolate, but these people live on less than two dollars a day.

Correspondingly, as Inez Torre and Bryony Jones note for CNN:

While demand for cocoa is growing to the point that some experts warn we may run out of affordable supplies within 20 years, the farmers who grow it earn a tiny proportion of the price we pay at the grocery store – and their share has dropped sharply over the past 35 years.

Simply put, it's in the interests of big chocolate companies to keep the price of cocoa low in order to increase their overall profits. Consequently, cocoa farmers are barely making enough to survive, and they often turn to child labor to keep their prices competitive.

Thus, due to the fact that many major chocolate brands acquire their cocoa from West Africa, they are contributing to the perpetuation child labor.

Children Are Being Purchased As Slaves To Work On Cocoa Farms

According to reports, there are around 800,000 children working on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast. As the international organization Oxfam highlights:

In some cases, low incomes mean the children of farmers need to work in order to help the family make ends meet. As well as being deprived of an education, children are often engaged in dangerous work, such as using machetes and applying toxic pesticides.

Hence, the extreme poverty in West Africa often means that children in cocoa farming communities have no choice but to assist their families. Yet, hundreds of thousands of children are also there as slaves or forced laborers.

In countries that neighbor Ivory Coast, such as Mali, Togo and Burkina Faso, children are sometimes sold by their parents to traffickers. The harsh economic realities in this part of the world make parents so exceptionally desperate that they sell their own offspring. Sometimes, however, human traffickers simply steal the children.

Subsequently, they are brought into Ivory Coast to work on cocoa farms. Most of these children are between 11 to 16 years old, and are forced to do grueling manual labor anywhere from 80 to 100 hours per week. If they try to escape, they are beaten.

This is all driven by greed. Simply put, paying laborers a fair wage would increase costs and reduce profits. Hence, chocolate companies make more money because of child labor and slavery. Hershey's appears to be one of the biggest perpetrators.

Fortunately, however, due to increased awareness of this issue, this is beginning to change.

More Can Be Done To Stop The Child Labor Behind Chocolate

There is now a global effort to ensure that the production of cocoa is more ethical and sustainable. Presently, more companies are working to make sure that their products do not contribute to poverty, child labor and slavery.

By paying fair prices to farmers in places like Ivory Coast, corporations can help communities develop. In turn, this contributes to the elimination of poverty and the root causes of the abhorrent practice of child labor.

Likewise, consumers can play a huge role in this effort. In essence, if consumers refuse to buy chocolate that isn't produced by ethical means, then companies that don't adhere to these practices will be forced to change.

Moreover, it's becoming a lot easier to tell whether or not your chocolate or candy bar is child labor free. This is because more brands now label their products with distinct certifications, such as Fair Trade, Equal Exchange, Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance. These products are often more expensive, but the extra price is worth it in the sense that it ensures a child does not become a victim of forced labor.

It's important to remain cognizant of the fact that some companies with these kinds of certifications on their labels are still engaged in dubious practices. Accordingly, there is still a great deal of work to be done. We can all begin this Halloween by purchasing chocolate that is ethically sourced, and completely child labor free.

Photo Courtesy: Dark Side Of Chocolate