In preparation for Christmas stockings, most people including me shop for candy. It just wouldn't be Christmas without chocolate, would it? However, there is a dark side to the chocolate that many of us will be purchasing over the next few weeks. Much of the chocolate that we consume is harvested and processed by young kids who are victims of child labor.
Now there is a lot of misunderstanding about what child labor is and what it isn't. My own kids have almost an hour of chores they must do every day. Even though some people may see this work as excessive for kids, it does not fall under the definition of child labor. According to Wikipedia child labor is when a child between 4-14 (over 14 is considered an adult and kids under 4 are typically not working yet) who is engaged in:
work that "is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; by obliging them to leave school prematurely; or by requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work."
Not all work that children do is child labor. Work done that is not detrimental to children’s health, development or schooling is beneficial because it allows children to develop skills, gain experience and prepare them for future positions; these are not considered child labor.
The worst forms of child labor, related to cocoa production, are using children as slaves or in debt bondage, trafficking them, and forcing them to do hazardous work, which includes using dangerous machinery or tools, manually transporting heavy loads, working with hazardous agents or working long hours.
When we give our children chores to do, we are allowing our children to develop skills and gain experience to prepare them for adult life. We don't assign our kids so much work that they are unable to attend school because of their work schedule. The work we give them doesn't take priority over their school attendance. And, of course we for sure don't go kidnap kids from a neighboring city to do our work for (this is one aspect of human trafficking).
Does this use of child/forced labor really exist? I think so. Here are a few resources to view so you can decide for yourself
- A CNN report in January 2012 documenting the use of child slave labor in chocolate production.
- From an article from 2010: Link to full article here. Quote shown below:
"ADM and Nestlé are both currently involved in a pending lawsuit concerning child trafficking and forced labour launched in 2005 by two human rights organizations, Global Exchange and the International Labor Rights Fund. The suit, filed on behalf of four Malian citizens, accuses the companies of benefiting from child slave labour at cocoa bean plantations in Cote d’Ivoire"
- Hershey was just sued for alleged child slave labor use in its chocolate. The complaint alleges that the Board of Directors has know for 11 years of child slave labor use.
- Another article about the November 2012 lawsuit against Hershey which includes this quote from the complaint that Hershey: “has knowingly failed to fulfill its promises. Instead, Hershey has continued to produce and sell chocolate that is the fruit of child and forced labor. If the company has knowingly supported or exploited the use of child or forced labor in Ghana or the Ivory Coast, Hershey itself has acted unlawfully or aided and abetted unlawful conduct.”
So, how do you know if the chocolate you bought is harvested or processed using child labor? The answer is: You can look up a company at Free2Work and see if they are graded (not all companies are) on their policies and practices for child/forced labor use. This site also includes articles about successes such as Cadbury's deal they signed with cocoa farmers including FairTrade Certification and the resulting improvements to life in cocoa villages. You only know for sure that the chocolate is free from child/forced labor if it is Certified by Fair Trade.
Certified chocolate will cost more than the bags of candy on sale at the grocery store. With my economics background, I am comfortable arguing that American demand for cheap chocolate keeps child labor in place. To pay all workers requires raising prices of the end product. Over the past few years prices for Fair Trade and Certified Organic chocolate have dropped. But, I would never expect Certified chocolate to ever be the cheapest option available. Instead, I encourage you to buy less chocolate and buy Certified chocolate instead.
Why would a Spokane, Washington farm family who doesn't even grow cocoa beans even care about this? Well, we are not living in an isolated world anymore and we can see and hear what happens all across the world in a matter of seconds. A generation ago this information would have taken months to get to us via a letter on a ship. There was no "seeing with your own eyes" through video cameras that record images, investigative reporting, and the internet. Once we know of oppression, we believe that we have a responsibility to bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives, and release prisoners from darkness. While we can't travel to this area and physically make these changes. But, we can speak loudly through how we spend our money and time. I invite you to join me in having a bite of Fair Trade chocolate this cold winter!