Child slavery - a secret ingredient in Valentine's Day chocolates?

02/11/11 Kate Bradshaw
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As Valentine’s Day looms, those who celebrate it may venture into a supermarket and pick up a heart-shaped cardboard box of chocolates. Most chocolate enthusiasts probably don’t know there’s a brutal side to those little sweets that have become so synonymous with love this time of year. Human trafficking plays a key role in the multi-billion dollar cocoa industry, but there’s little will on the part of corporations to do anything about it.

The 50 million pounds of chocolate Americans consume over Valentines Day may be hazardous to something besides your health. Forty-six percent of the world’s cocoa crop comes from the Ivory Coast, or Cote D’Ivoire. Cocoa planters there use child labor to meet industry demands. Some are brought in from neighboring countries; sometimes sold by their parents. A 2010 film documenting the practice opens at a chocolate industry conference. Journalist Miki Mistrati asks attendees where cocoa – a key ingredient in chocolate – comes from.

Chocolate industry leaders tell Mistrati they know nothing about the documented practice of forcing children to work twelve to fourteen hour days with little food or sleep, subject to confinement and beatings. Mistrati then heads to Cote D’Ivoire, where he goes undercover to expose numerous cases of human trafficking within the cocoa industry. The film recently screened at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport. During a panel discussion that followed, Giselle Rodriguez of the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking said paying adult field workers a decent wage would create an environment where parents don’t feel they had to sell their kids to the cocoa industry.

  1. Roberto Romano, one of the film’s directors, joined the discussion via Skype. He said it’s not likely a regulation cutting into the industry’s profits would fly. He said the cocoa constitutes nearly a quarter of Cote D’Ivoire’s exports, and that it needs the industry in order to exist as an international economic entity.

Romano said the only way to tackle the problem is to have a unified effort among entities like the International Labor Organization and the US Department of Labor. He said the US Congress passed the Harken-Engel Protocol in 2001, which would have dealt directly with child labor in Cote D’Ivoire. Romano said the International agreement would have included a mandatory “Fair Trade”-like labeling initiative, but lost its kick upon contact with the Washington political machine.

If the political will to punish those who violate internationally-observed human rights standards is nonexistent, some believe economic will on the part of consumers might suffice. The panel tackled the question of whether boycotting cocoa products with no clear certification of ethical labor practices would really help end child labor at the African country’s cocoa plantations. Law professor and business ethics expert Clark Furlow said starving the industry would just make things worse for laborers in Cote D’Ivoire.

On the other hand, labor lawyer Peter Robb said, consumers in rich countries can pressure corporations like Nestle, Cargill, Kraft, and Archer Daniels Midland into adopting ethics guidelines for cocoa suppliers.

Giselle Rodriguez of the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking said taking the industry to task may prove challenging, however, given that even agriculture operations the US are immune to child labor laws.

To find out more about child labor in the cocoa industry, go to There you’ll find information on chocolate companies, their cocoa suppliers, and where to find certified Fair Trade chocolate.

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