The Dark side of Chocolate, shortages, and child trafficking? What!?

I love chocolate.  Dark chocolate, white chocolate, milk chocolate, with berries, nuts and what have you, I love it all. I may sound a bit like that guy from Forrest Gump, but truly, I am aware of my chocoholism and right now I just accept it. I’ve probably eaten my weight of the stuff several times over in my lifetime and other than perhaps thinking “om nom nom”, or “Buying in bulk means it’s cheaper!” I’ve never really thought anything more about it, say like, where it comes from. With my new found interest in nutrition, I did start paying attention to what was in it, how much sugar, how many calories (*sigh*, the sad truth was usually lots – much to the chagrin of my calorie counting self) and I’d still manage to cut the right corners and get a bit in every week in its various forms. Yet, as far as where it came from, I was never really that interested, if it didn’t come prepared and prepackaged in a wrapper, box, bottle or canister then I really had no idea, other than the fact that somewhere down the line it was made from a bean.

I found a really lovely blog on this site recently called On the Cocoa Trail. This blog discusses cocoa production in Peru and completely captivated me with great photos of places, people and the vibrant coloured pods that cocoa beans grow in. It was extremely cool to be able to learn about how chocolate is grown and to see the process in her amazing pictures. As you may have found out from my farmageddon post, the agriculture business is also one of the things I’ve become interested in, and I’ve also had a passion for travel and learning about new places, and this blog was able to touch on all of these things, making it just so very cool! I would really recommend giving it a peek.

So, anyway, the other day, whilst cruising the fathoms of the internets (yes, I did call it that. Not because I don’t know any better, but because it amuses me.) I found a rather disturbing article called 8 commodities you didn’t know were scarce and found chocolate on it. There are other things it talks about too, but the idea that chocolate might become scarce or cost more than caviar due to global warming freaked me out. Not chocolate! Noooooooooooooo! So I had to pull out my researchy pants and dig a bit, as I’ve learned never to trust anything out there in cyber land (movie land, or any media land actually, and don’t get me started on “some guy I know” conversations) without making sure to back it up, and now that the challenge was out there I picked up my keyboard/shield and mouse/sword and accepted my quest.

What I found was a bit surprising. According to an older article in the Guardian chocolate prices have been increasing, and so chocolate companies have been reducing their wares by a cube or two, and discretely downsizing their products while keeping the prices the same to make up for their losses. Articles both in the LA Times and the Huffington Post also lend some credence to the claim that global warming may be shrinking crop yields, although an article in the National Post tends to discredit this idea and the effects of global warming completely. Perhaps we won’t know who is right until the results give us a rectal chew, but it does lead one to wonder if the other areas too cold for this kind of crop previously might be able to be used. Who really knows? The proof will be in the chocolate pudding, I guess.

Now, the final rock that I turned over about the cocoa industry was probably the most shocking, and it is the one that involves a majorly evil social problem, child trafficking and slavery. The documentary I found that spoke on this topic was called the Dark side of Chocolate, which was released in 2010 and was directed by Miki Mistrati and U. Roberto Romano. Using a hidden camera and going to the areas that the traffickers use, as well as the plantations in the Ivory Coast of Africa (which produces about 35% of the world’s cocoa), he exposes the practice of child labour and slavery that exists today in the chocolate industry. I do admit, the first minute and a half of the show had me rolling my eyes a bit at its agressive bias and dramatic evil drumbeat and images, but it doesn’t really take that long to hook you with some pretty obvious proof.

Sadly, there is lots of proof out there that backs up this claim, for example, major chocolate manufacturers like Nestle, Mars, Hershey and others did sign the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001 which was created as a compromise to avoid having to put a dolphin friendly like label for child slave labor on their labels to indicate that their chocolate was free from this kind of abuse. I think just imagining mommies the world over having to explain the no child sign on little Johnny’s chocolate bar, and how it would effect their products reputation, and you can imagine the hoops the industry would agree to jump through not to get stuck with that on their labels. Although it has done some things towards helping this problem, it still has not met all the goals that were set. In fact, the wiki article I reference above includes the following quote:

“Ivory Coast and Ghana showed that there were 1.8 million children working in cocoa agriculture. About 5% in the Ivory Coast and 10% in Ghana worked for pay”.

So, although there are measures in place, it’s still a problem.

If this is something that everyone involved knows about, why is it still happening today? Apparently it’s a dangerous topic to dig into. Guy Andre Kieffer was a Canadian journalist who disappeared while working in the Ivory Coast and it’s believed that he was kidnapped and killed while investigating corrupt government officials and money laundering claims that may be related to the cocoa industry.

The reason this is happening is because everyone involved turns a blind eye and does nothing. Together, people can help to stop this, and the first step is to acknowledge it exists. The second step is to pass the word, tell your friends, e-mail your government reps, chocolate companies and local news and national news sources.  The more you talk about it, the less it can hide in the shadows of acceptability.

If you want to learn more you can watch the whole movie for free online from the link below and/or read the book and internet list underneath that. We can be the change that we want to see in this world, but we must act. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Thanks for listening.

The Dark side of Chocolate

Internet sources:

The CNN freedom project   

Chocolate industry responses to CNN documentary Chocolate’s Child Slaves

Raise the bar Hershey info and petition

Children in cocoa production

Lindt and Ferreo petition, it has closed but includes contact links

Books

Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet by Carol Off

Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light by Mort Rosenblum  

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25 thoughts on “The Dark side of Chocolate, shortages, and child trafficking? What!?

    • Sadly, when it’s unethically collected it can be. Originally, I was only worried about what it did to my waistline, but when I found this particular movie, however bitter the take on this sweet subject, I felt I had to spread the word. The good news is you can still get it from other places that do not have this reputation, like South America. So, with a bit of research and discretion, you can still enjoy it without contributing to the human trafficking problem. Sigh, who knew the world was so complicated? Thanks for stopping by!

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  1. What a great piece, thank you.
    Your sentence about the dangers of investigating the subject reminded me of the milk powder scandal in the Phillipines. American milk powder companies put pressure on the Phillipines government to stop their breast feeding campaign.
    The lawyer commissioned by people trying to resist this corporate pressure was killed mysteriously. It may interest you to know that US milk food corporates have been so successful in Asia, that something like 95 per cent of mothers in Thailand now use milk powder. And not many have pure water to mix it with it with.
    In some places in Africa, women are bribed with free hospital care and can stay for a month while they establish bottle feeding, and leave with a month’s free supply of milk powder. When they run out they have no money to buy more, and they’ve lost their own milk supply by then.

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    • Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. 🙂 That’s also very interesting about the milk powder, I hadn’t heard of it before. I’ll have to check that out too. Thanks for letting me know about that, and for commenting and visiting. 🙂

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    • It’s a bit hard to get a straight answer on this, and it may vary on the label used, the country it’s used in, and how corrupt their government is. Generally, I think that fair trade and certified organic chocolate is probably your better bet (at least from what I can find on the internet) since there is a process that is involved in order to get it certified and a certain standard that needs to be maintained to keep it that way. Fair-trade products also ensure that the farmer will get paid market price for what he is selling. Sometimes they will pay above market price and the extra money often will go into the community projects. However, the auditor may not actually go to every farm in a co-op if it’s got a lot of members, and some only do spot checks, so there is some room for bad behaviour to exist. So, although I can’t say it’s definitively ok, it’s still better than no certification.
      Most of the child slavery reports and videos that I’ve found seem to focus mainly on the Ivory Coast of Africa, so I’d go with avoiding that specifically and try looking for brands that buy their beans elsewhere, like in South America. I think your best bet is to research your favorite suppliers and send letters to them and ask directly. The more letters they get, the more they will realize the public is watching for this, so they better too.
      If I get more info on this I’ll definitely post it. 🙂 Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!

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  3. Well that was eye opening.

    I never would have suspected chocolate having such a dark background, and yet, I shouldn’t be surprised that behemoths like Nestle (in particular) with a track record of horrendous human rights violations use child labour, on a continent they have ravaged in various ways not least the powdered milk scandal.

    Damn…

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    • Yeah, it can kind of leave a bad taste in your mouth (ha ha). On a more serious note though, it’s a sad truth that if we aren’t talking about it then it kind of just slides under the rug and people forget it’s an issue. The other part that I’ve researched a bit that can be equally upsetting is that you also have to be careful about how you make changes in any kind of business system that includes people in dire poverty. Most people would probably support a no kids working, period, kind of attitude, but when you take away legitimate sources of income from children in the devastatingly poor areas, they may be pushed into even worse kinds of human trafficking because that’s all that’s left. It’s a sickening cycle that needs to change globally but most are unwilling to flip over that rock because it’s really disgusting underneath. Thanks for reading this one and commenting, it makes me feel like I might need to go out and kick over some more rocks on this subject. 🙂

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      • You’re right on in that the system is complicated, it’s easy to forget those affected at the base level.
        Really troubling that children working is better, because otherwise even worse might befall them.
        Poverty works it’s twisted hand once more. In a similar vein, sweatshop workers are supposedly better off with 10p a day or whatever they get, because they can maybe get by on that. It gives filthy rich companies an excuse also.
        The only solution is dispersed wealth, but I’m not naive enough to think that’ll ever happen, or that companies will place workers over profits.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, it’s quite sad. I’d love to hear about something that works so I can support it. So far, it does seem like public pressure that reduces company profits might be the answer, but it’s definitely a long and twisty road to a better tomorrow. I’m hopeful that one day things might get better, which is probably naive. I also hope that I can find a small way to make a difference too, but so far the best I’ve come up with is talking about it. Thanks so much for the chat and visit. 🙂

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