Chocolate is one of the most widely consumed foods in the world. With 3 million tons of chocolate consumed every year, it is obvious the chocolate industries are alive and well, flourishing with every bar sold. However, it is not likely that consumers are questioning the origins and success behind the industry. Trailing this dark brown sweet is a long, dark, history, hidden from the world. Beyond the rich, creamy, delight that comes with enjoying a chocolate bar, is the backbending work and sweat of young children.
West Africa is home to a number of cacao farms that contribute to the creation of the cocoa powdered perfection that melts on our tongues. The cacao, or more commonly used term, cocoa, is most prominent in tropical climates like Ghana and the Ivory Coast regions. The Ivory Coast is the number one producer of these beans and is therefore a hot spot for child labor and trafficking.
Since 60% of the Ivory Coast’s revenue is generated by its cocoa export, the chocolate industry has had a field day enlarging the demand for cheap cocoa. Cocoa farmers and extractors on average earn less than $2.00/day which refelects the impact of poverty on West Africa. In order to create a competitive market and improve their economy, the industry utilizes cheap child labor. The children of West Africa are already emerged in a poverty-stricken environment where most begin working at a young age to support their family. With this in mind, it is a common occurrence along the country borders that traffickers lure and exploit children, convincing them that they will earn lots of money if they work on a cocoa plantation.
Other children who do not willingly join as a means of income, are trafficked or sold to plantation owners, unaware of the dangerous work that ensues. Once taken to these cacao farms, children often do not reunite with their family for years, if ever they are even given the opportunity to leave. Additionally, these child workers either don’t receive a substantial income to live off of or simply do not earn an income at all. While major chocolate corporations such as Nestle, Cargill, and Mars, deny this rumor that they are extracting cacao beans in an illegal fashion, investigators and journalists have proved the rumors true.
These horrors have in fact been proven accurate in that reporters have captured physical video footage of young children, varying from ages five to sixteen, using unsafe equipment to chop and collect beans in West African plantation sites. These children often times begin the workday before sunrise and end after sunset. Their day typically consists of chopping large trees using chainsaws and tough knives. The use of heavy machetes and dangerous tools is a violation to both international labor laws and the UN standard that works to rid the workplace of poor forms of child labor. The risk is high in that a child could make one wrong slash at a cocoa bean and puncture flesh, fall from a tall tree during a climb, overwork their developing bodies, or even fall victim to the threat of illness. The environment set in place for children at cocoa bean plantations is both physically and mentally detrimental to a young child.
For more information about the horrors of chocolate, tune in to the preview of the documentary below