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  • Charlie Sandles

Chocolate and Child Slavery: What You Don’t Know

© Courtesy of Salwan Georges

The truth behind corporate giants’ supply chain atrocities.

Transparency throughout the supply chain is increasingly becoming the most important factor that consumers consider when choosing products amongst competitors. Social media, for all its triumphs in marketing and customer relations, has provided consumers with a platform to scrutinise, discuss and enlighten themselves on brands’ activities, pledges and scandals. The chocolate industry is one of the newest under fire for unethical practices throughout the supply chain and its workers, and individuals have started to boycott brands like Nestlé, Mars and Hershey for their questionable morality.

Most won’t think twice when grabbing a chocolate bar from the supermarket shelf; we’re all aware of the fashion industry’s questionable ethics and sustainability issues, but the realities of the chocolate industry are ignored or unknown.

Earlier this year, Nestlé, Mars and Hershey faced allegations from former child workers on cocoa farms. The allegations outlined the inhumane treatment of the children through slave labour on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast. As stated, the plaintiffs are seeking damages for forced labour, negligent supervision and infliction of emotional distress. ‘Child labour is unacceptable and heartbreaking’- Nestlé reinforce that they actively work towards ensuring that child labour is tackled in the supply chain, but don’t commit to supporting the eradication of child slavery all together. It seems almost obvious that no company should endorse child labour in any case, yet, with several brands refusing to comment on such activities and brands- such as Hershey- going so far as to have no public information of their supply chain, it begs the question, do they actually care?

The realities of child labour in the cocoa industry

Ivory Coast contributes 45% of the global supply of cocoa; west Africa’s cocoa production has been associated with numerous issues such as low pay, human rights abuses and child labour. Workers are often recruited using deceptive tactics and are unaware of the reality they are being brought into; children are trafficked across borders and are committed to no pay, travel or work documents and no sense of identity or idea of where they are or when their employment will end.

Surely, ‘any work is good work’- but these workers are children. Bereft of education, the nurture of their family and human rights, there is little option for these children but to work under the tyrannical rule of farm owners. Forced to sleep in squalor, with no access to nutritional food or sanitary facilities, these children are trapped- bound by elusive ‘contracts’ that dictate their future, and thieve their livelihood.

The work endured is dangerous and laborious; children are expected to climb trees and use machetes to strike cocoa pods, whilst others below carry sacks- often weighing 100 pounds or more- through the forest. Workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals without the use of any protective clothing. How can we be so ignorant of the danger?

© Courtesy of Salwan Georges

It begs the question: why is there little happening to ensure there is an end to this? We take for granted our access to education, a home and our family, and appear to forget about the reality of the life forced upon children working in the cocoa industry. Child labour shouldn’t be another issue that is swept under the rug; the cocoa trade is just one example that has recently come to light, but the shocking reality extends much further across numerous industries- the cotton and palm oil industries, for example. Brands need to take responsibility and source their produce ethically by investigating their suppliers and investing more time, money and resources into the ethics of the business.

© Courtesy of Salwan Georges

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