We ended our “Chocolate Community Day” on a more serious note by watching the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate,” about the child labor that occurs to produce the majority of the chocolate the world eats. Children, usually ages 8-12, are smuggled across the border into the Ivory Coast under the guise that they will work and be able to send money back to the families in Mali. They are then forced to stay on the plantation, are never paid the wages that were promised, and are beaten if they complain or try to leave.
The film-maker had a hidden camera and captured a child crying because he was alone in a new country and didn’t know what to do, where to go, or who would take care of him. We didn’t understand his words (the film has subtitles) but a scared child crying for his parents doesn’t need translation. The film-maker also talked to a young girl who was crying because she had been discovered and was being sent back to her family, who would be mad she was returning without any money. Which was even more devastating.
Even though chocolate company CEOs, government officials, and local cacoa plantation owners swear up and down that there are no children working on the farms, the hidden camera proves otherwise. Little boys, who appeared to be around 7, were in the jungle with machetes harvesting the cacoa. It was heartbreaking.
The process of smuggling the children parallels the chocolate industry itself. One person works to secure the children on one side of the border, another takes them across by bus or motorcycle, another takes them to the plantation, and finally they are bought by someone at the farm where they will work. No one takes individual responsibility for being a part of this violation of human rights. While it is illegal, it is a socially accepted a way for desperate people to make money– by exploiting young children.
Chocolate companies are doing the same thing on a larger scale. By the time the cacoa beans have made it to the chocolate bar in your kitchen it has been passed around and owned by so many people that no one is taking responsibility for how it was grown. It gets transported to the coast, bought by a shipping company, sold to factories in Europe, bought by various companies like Nestle, then sold to grocery stores and whole-sellers, who then sell it to consumers completely oblivious because they are so far removed from the process. Chocolate companies get around the illegality of it by saying they do not own the plantations where the cacao is grown, meaning they have no control or knowledge of what what happens. While they are completely aware that child slave labor is occurring to make their product, they chose to do nothing about it in favor of the bottom line. They put profit over the lives of the children who are being held and beaten every day to produce our guilty pleasure snack.
Watching the documentary made us all feel sick and queasy (although that might have been all of the chocolate we ate that day.) But we felt assured that at least all of the chocolate we had enjoyed during our community day was grown organically by workers who were treated ethically and made by people who care about the process. I had already been aware that child slave labor occurs in making things like chocolate but decided it was easier to not think about it. But once you have been educated and have seen the faces (even if just in a documentary) there’s no way you can continue making the same ignorant and convenient choices. There’s no excuse for not buying fair trade chocolate. Yes, it might take some research and it costs a little bit more money, but once you know the consequences of supporting an exploitative system it’s a no-brainer. The hardest part is changing our routine and our buying/eating habits and going just a little bit out of our way, and asking ourselves if it’s worth it. I can’t make that decision for you, but I certainly hope it will be a “yes.”