Allison Richina, Intern, International Labor Rights Forum
Imagine that favorite piece of chocolate entering your mouth as you bite into its rich flavor. The very thought of chocolate brings pleasure and excitement to our taste buds. Where do you get your chocolate from? Maybe a drug store, grocery store, or a chocolate store? Have you thought about where those stores and brands get their chocolate?
The shocking truth is that an estimate of 109,000 children are working in abusive conditions with as many as 10,000 suffering as victims of human trafficking or enslavement (according to the U.S. Department of State), and these may be conservative estimates. In 2005, the International Labor Organization estimated that as many as 200,000 children work in West Africa cocoa farms.
While chocolate is marketed to consumers as delicious and mouth-watering, the truth is that thousands of children have been subjected to hazardous working conditions on cocoa farms throughout West Africa.
How can so many children loose their childhoods to the cocoa bean? Most of the trafficked children come from Mali. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world with 54% of Mali’s people living below $1.25 a day, and 77% below $2 a day. Therefore people travel to Cote d'Ivoire to find jobs. Of the thousands of children who have experienced trafficking and/or forced labor, the majority are from Mali. Parents often send their children from their rural homes (where there is a lack of resources and jobs) to Cote d'Ivoire to work in whatever conditions to support their families. Conditions among the children vary, some get paid low wages, some get no pay at all.
These areas are precisely where the traffickers prey for desperate people (International Labor Organization). Many families work in the informal sector in order to earn a living because the economy has been experiencing such a low level of growth. The sluggish economy also provides disincentives for parents to send their children to school since an education does not automatically result in securing a job.
There are about 600,000 cocoa farms in Cote d'Ivoire accroding to the Child Labor Coalition. Some employers are accussed of subjecting children to inhumane living conditions. In addition to lengthy working hours, there have been cases where children have not been paid or fed properly.
However, there are many labor rights groups that are fighting for the lives of the thousands that are caught in abusive conditions. The International Labor Rights Forum has been working to eliminate child labor in the cocoa sector for many years. ILRF's current Raise the Bar Hershey campaign is calling on Hershey to eliminate exploitative child labor from its cocoa production chain and to commit to sourcing Fair Trade Certified cocoa. Hundreds of students and concerned consumers gathered in front of the Hershey Store in Times Square, New York City, on June 8, to call on Hershey to “raise the bar.”
You can take action now, by telling Hershey to do more to stop forced, trafficked and child labor in its cocoa supply chain and to start sourcing Fair Trade cocoa! It just takes a minute to take action. Or you can host your own Fair Trade S’mores event and help spread the truth behind the cocoa industry.
Today, ILRF is focusing its attention on a popular restaurant chain, Cosi. Cosi's top treat is a table-sized s'mores kit that includes a bar of Hershey chocolate. Cosi's motto is: "Life Should be Delicious." If you believe that life should be delicious for the farmers and workers who labor to make our chocolate treats, let Cosi know on Facebook.
Leave Cosi a message on its Facebook page asking it to make their tableside s'mores with Fair Trade chocolate. Compose a message of your own or copy and paste the one below:
I believe that "life should be delicious" for farmers and workers too. Will you take action to stop child labor, forced labor and trafficking in your chocolate s'mores by switching to Fair Trade Certified cocoa?
Once you've left a message, make sure to sign the petition to Cosi and ask your friends to join you.
Together we can create healthy and safe lives for the thousands of other children who are working on cocoa farms. Don't forget to leave a message for Cosi and sign the petition to stop child labor in chocolate. Ready to do your part?