Most people in the West love eating chocolate, yet have little idea about where the cocoa beans come from that make up modern chocolate products like chocolate bars and cocoa powder.
Chocolate and Child Labour
It turns out over 50 percent of the cocoa beans used in commercial production come from The Ivory Coast in Africa, or Cote d’Ivoire (the government of this country discourages the use of the English translation Ivory Coast, preferring the French.)
Unfortunately, lots of child labour bordering on slave labour is used in these cocoa plantations.
Chocolate manufacturers in the West have agreed to something called the Harkin-Engel protocol (named after two US politicians) which entails an agreement from manufacturers to clean up their supply lines and make sure no child or slave labour is involved on cocoa plantations. The first deadline was 2005, which was not met, neither has the 2008 deadline been met.
The Dark Side of Chocolate
Carol Off is a Canadian investigative journalist who has interviewed boys who have worked as child labour on these plantations. None of the boys she interviewed had any clue as to what cocoa beans were actually used for.
Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet is pretty much a baleful history of the cocoa bean industry, from the Aztecs and their slave labour workforce, through to the Quaker chocolate makers like the Cadburys and the Rowntrees (who knew they were using slave labour, but could not figure out how to get around it), right up to today. In the end, Carol Off says that slave labour has always been behind the cocoa bean, and it doesn’t look like stopping any day soon.
Carol Off writes in a manner that is elegant and absorbing. The narrative of how chocolate came into being was fascinating, especially all the scandals surrounding Cadbury’s use of cocoa beans derived from slave labour (ironically, the Cadbury’s were committed Christians.)
The last part of the book delves into the murky and depressing world of Cote d’Ivoire’s politics and economy.
Tim Costello of World Vision says the best way for the chocolate industry to get the message that child labour is unacceptable is for consumers to make their displeasure known to the manufacturers. Imagine if every chocolate bar eater wrote a letter of protest, then surely the industry would respond.
Alas, as Carol Off finishes in her book, ‘There is little likelihood that this ancient and enduring injustice will be corrected.’
That of course doesn’t mean that consumers should stop their protests against this inhumane practice.
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