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


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