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Chocolate: Bitter or Sweet?

June 10, 2010 ·

World Day Against Child Labor is this Saturday, June 12. Take a stand and demonstrate that children cannot continue to suffer while the world remains silent.

Yacouba DarriaAs you are enjoying your summer weekend, maybe stopping for a chocolaty treat after a day out with family or friends, think of 14 year old Yacouba Darria. Take a moment to question how that chocolate you’re enjoying was produced and whether it required Yacouba, or another child like him, to be trafficked into child slavery.

A child-trafficker found Yacouba one week after leaving home for the first time. He enticed Yacouba to join him by spinning tales of the money he could earn. Yacouba had no idea that he was being taken away from his home in Mali to the Cote d’Ivoire. Here, he was forced to complete dangerous work every day — wielding a machete to get through the brush and cutting cocoa pods from tall trees. After a full year, he had collected a total of only $13 US for his work.

Yacouba and 15,000 other children in the Cote d’Ivoire are forced to work as slaves on cocoa farms. This makes up only a small portion of the over 215 million child laborers worldwide in varied industries. The proportion of children involved is highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in four children participates in child labor. Over 60 percent of these child laborers work in agriculture to produce goods such as cocoa, cotton, tobacco, rice, sugarcane, and coffee. They work in hazardous conditions and receive little or no pay.

Imagine it was your child. Your nephew. Your little brother.

What are you going to do to help him?

There are already many international laws in place forbidding this practice yet… it’s still happening. The world needs a renewed outrage against child labor. People can make a difference.

A popular solution is often to boycott the good produced using child labor, hoping the decrease in profits will pressure companies to end their practices. While boycotts can be successful if organized properly, they can also be detrimental to the fate of child laborers. The lower profits may actually cause companies to increase their levels of child labor and decrease working condition in order to reduce production costs.

You can, however, shift your buying practices. By attempting to buy more fair-trade goods, you benefit companies who are socially responsible. You also send a message to those companies more focused on their bottom-line that it can be profitable to support just labor practices. The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) created a report rating chocolate companies based on labor practices with the best being Sweet Earth Chocolates, Equal Exchange, and Divine Chocolate. Hershey’s, M&M/Mars, and Nestlé, however, were the worst rated.

Also take a few minutes out of your day to call, email, or write the companies with the worst abuses and demand better working conditions and more transparency in their supply chain. The ILRF makes it easy. Their website lists many ways to take action, including the current campaign to call Hershey’s.

Keep the plight of Yacouba and the other children in mind as you go to the voting booth as well. Examine the trade policies of candidates and makes sure they support fair-trade practices and workers’ rights rather than the corporate bottom-line. Note if they support increased funding and other initiatives to address the root causes of child labor such as poverty, lack of adequate education, conflict, and discrimination.

Remember, chocolate is not the only good produced with high levels of child labor. Educate yourself about how child labor is involved in the production of Firestone tires, Nike apparel, tobacco, cotton, and more.

World Day Against Child Labor is this Saturday, June 12. Take a stand today and demonstrate that children cannot continue to suffer while the world remains silent.

 

Kaila Clarke is an intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.