On the 14th, supermarket shelves will be piled high with heart-shaped chocolates and truffles, but few consider the darkness at the heart of chocolate production. The bitter reality behind these sweet treats is that the chocolate industry is propped up by child labour and slavery. At a time when people are expressing love and care for those around them, Supply Chain Justice, a student movement raising awareness of human rights violations in corporate supply chains, asks them to extend this care to the people whose labour is exploited in the production of chocolate.
Admittedly, the barrage of news about unethical companies can be overwhelming. Achieving ethical consumption under capitalism is highly complex and even impossible, with increasingly convoluted and nebulous supply chains. Nevertheless, this does not mean that we, as consumers, have no power. Targeted consumer pressure is vital to building a more just world. Supply Chain Justice believes that chocolate consumption is a key area in which we can make a tangible difference. Not just because chocolate is so widely consumed, but because it’s a luxury product rather than a necessity, so it’s easier to encourage ethical alternatives which are relatively accessible. They also believe that there is more of a gap in awareness around chocolate production than in other industries. Many people are unaware that no single certification label (such as various fair trade certifications and the Rainforest Alliance) can guarantee that the chocolate was made without the use of exploitative labour. Through their detailed research and driven campaign, Supply Chain Justice is striving to unravel these complexities.
Cheap chocolate comes at a steep human cost; 1.56 million children are forced to work in the cocoa industry. Child labourers on cocoa farms work long hours, with some working up to 14 hours a day. They often have to use dangerous tools such as chainsaws and machetes, leaving many carrying brutal scars. Children carry the pods in sacks that weigh more than 100 pounds when full. They can also be exposed to agricultural chemicals, which they spray in large amounts without wearing protective clothing. This dangerous work violates international labour laws and a UN convention on eliminating the worst forms of child labour.
Around 30% of children labouring on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast do not attend school. This is often because parents who are not paid enough for the cocoa they sell are forced to include their children in the farm labour, instead of sending them to school. However, the exploitation of child labour is not limited to the families of cocoa farmers, trafficking of children is widespread. In one village in Burkina Faso, almost every mother in the village has had a child trafficked onto cocoa farms. Cases of slavery in the cocoa industry often involve physical violence, such as being whipped for working slowly or trying to escape. Drissa, a former enslaved worker, captured the violence of the extraction of the labour that produces the sweet treat when he said “When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”
The root of this problem is simple: the cocoa price is simply not high enough. Many farmers are currently paid less than $1 a day, far below the extreme poverty line. Within their $103 billion-per-year industry, chocolate companies have the power to end the use of child and slave labour by paying cocoa farmers a living income.
Nevertheless, there are accessible alternatives to this brutal exploitation. There are numerous ethical chocolate brands (pictured below). During the week around Valentine’s Day, Supply Chain Justice will be running stalls on campus giving out free ethically produced chocolate, whilst educating people about the situation and what actions can be taken. For more information, visit www.supplychainjustice.com.
Image via Pixabay