Contributed Article by Tex Dworkin, February 2007
Global Exchange Fair Trade Online Store
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Hershey's kiss,
and yet a celebration is hardly in order. Why? Because with each
bite, we are reminded that most chocolate sold in the U.S. comes
from cocoa farms where farmers work in unsafe conditions, receive
below poverty wages, many of them children under 14 years old
who are forced to work and denied education.
With another Valentine's Day approaching, happy couples will
wine and dine, showering each other with flowers, jewelry, and
chocolate. Unfortunately, knowing where most chocolate comes from
makes it hard to swallow!
It's 2007, and people are finally starting to question where
the products they buy are made and whether the workers who made
them were treated fairly. Sweatshop-free apparel is becoming hip,
and Fair Trade coffee is at least a blip on the map. Yet chocolate
is still being made with cocoa beans harvested by children in
Africa working in unsafe conditions, while the average consumer
has no idea this is going on.
The truth behind chocolate is not-so-sweet. The Ivory Coast is
the world's largest cocoa producer, providing 43% of the world's
cocoa. And yet, in 2001 the U.S. State Department reported child
slavery on many cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. A 2002 report
from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture about
cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and other African countries estimated
there were 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous
conditions. U.S. chocolate manufacturers have claimed they are
not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations since
they don't own them.
Chocolate comes from cocoa, and the cocoa supply is controlled
by a small number of companies worldwide that are allowed to function
with limited accountability. Hershey's and M&M/Mars alone
control two-thirds of the $13 billion U.S. chocolate candy market.
The result? An industry marred with child slavery, unsafe working
conditions and a cycle of poverty with no end in sight for cocoa
farmers. Chocolate companies are not held accountable for sourcing
practices, and despite their knowledge about the travesties that
occur on cocoa farms, they lack the will to change.
The U.S. chocolate industry has faced multiple deadlines requiring
new protocol, and yet little has changed. Under pressure from
Congress, in the Harken-Engel Protocol, the U.S. chocolate industry
agreed to voluntarily take steps to end child slavery on cocoa
farms by July of 2005. This deadline has since passed, and the
chocolate industry has failed to comply with the terms of this
So in July 2005, International Labor Rights Fund filed suit against
Nestlé in Federal District Court on behalf of a class of
children who were trafficked from Mali into the Ivory Coast and
forced to work twelve to fourteen hours a day with no pay, little
food and sleep, and frequent beatings. What was Nestlé's
response to court questioning? "We are only buyers of a product.
There is a plethora of examples of company leaders who were publicly
criticized for selling clothing lines manufactured by sweatshop
workers, Kathy Lee Gifford and designer Jessica McClintock to
name a few. Chocolate companies should be held accountable for
the conditions of cocoa producers they buy from.
Consumers can hold chocolate companies accountable by choosing
only Fair Trade Certified chocolate. It's easy to do. Simply look
for TransFair USA's Fair Trade logo on the package. TransFair
is the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the
U.S. Fair Trade Certified chocolate ensures that no forced or
abusive child labor was used. If consumer demand for Fair Trade
chocolate increases, perhaps chocolate companies will alter their
practices. Thus, buying Fair Trade chocolate can put an end to
the disastrous cycle of poverty and child endangerment.
It is estimated that Fair Trade chocolate represents less than
1% of the world's roughly $60 billion chocolate market. According
to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association and National Confectioners
Association, in 2005 more than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of
chocolate were sold for Valentine's Day. How many hours of exploited
child labor went into those boxes of chocolate?
So what's a chocolate lover to do? Choose Fair Trade chocolate
this Valentine's Day, a sweet deal for loved ones and cocoa farmers.