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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003

    Slave Trade Chocolate: Extra Guilt for Consumers                    

    Carole Pearson

    Does eating chocolate make you feel a little guilty? Reports about the use of child labour on African cocoa plantations should add a whole new element to those feelings of guilt.

    According to Statistics Canada, Canadians purchase 6.7 kilograms of chocolate per person each year. Most people worry about chocolate because it’s fattening. A bigger concern according to Rachel Baird  in the London Daily Telegraph, is “up to 40 percent of the chocolate we eat may be contaminated by slavery.”

    Ivory Coast is the world’s biggest producer of cocoa beans with over a million cocoa farms and plantations. A British TV documentary titled Slavery claims 90 percent of Ivory Coast cocoa plantations use slave labour. Most workers are young men and boys from impoverished areas in Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso and Mali. They are enticed by traffickers who promise them paid work, housing and an education. Instead, they are sold to Ivory Coast cocoa plantation owners who beat them into submission and make them work 18-hour days with little or no pay.

    After Slavery was broadcast in Britain in 2000, horrified consumers bombarded the country’s biggest chocolate manufacturers - Cadbury, Nestle and Mars - with demands for “clean products” untainted by slave labour.

    Most companies purchase their cocoa on international exchanges where cocoa from Ivory Coast is mixed with cocoa from other countries and can no longer be detected as a slave-made product. Anti Slavery International says, “Because of the way the chocolate industry buys its cocoa, it is not possible to ensure that slavery or other forms of illegal exploitation have not been used in its production.” Anti Slavery says companies should purchase directly from plantations or work with cocoa-producing countries such as Ivory Coast and ensure labour standards are enforced.

    Giving in to pressure from consumers and international non-governmental organizations, the chocolate industry has formulated a phased, 4-year-plan to eliminate child slavery in cocoa production. A program for certification is slated to come into effect on July 2005. But will it be enough?

    Anti Slavery International advises: “[T]he only way consumers can be confident the produce they use is free from exploited labour is by buying products which carry a fair trade label.”

    What does the fair trade label mean? Organizations like the UK’s Fair Trade Foundation and TransFair Canada certify products which meet the principles of the fair trade system. Fair trade means products are purchased directly and at a fair price from small family growers and co-operatives that do not rely on hired or illegal forced labour. Growers receive a minimum guaranteed price that covers real production costs, regardless of how low world market prices fall.

    Fluctuating prices on the world commodity markets give cocoa producers a precarious existence. The flourishing child slavery trade in Ivory Coast is partly a result of cocoa producers being desperate for cheap labour when prices are low. On the New York Coffee, Sugar and Cocoa Exchange, cocoa prices dropped to $US982 in 2001 from a high of $US1800 per tonne in1997. Last year, it rebounded to a 17-year high of $2317 per tonne but this was caused by shortfall as rebel fighting in the country has destroyed homes and caused thousands of workers to flee the plantations.

    TransFair Canada has made great inroads in certifying and promoting fair trade coffee. It later turned its efforts to work with the Ottawa-based La Siembra Co-Operative to establish the criteria for certifying fair trade cocoa.

    La Siembra’s Cocoa Camino brand products come directly from small family farms in Latin America and the Caribbean. Co-operative member Jeff De Jong emphasized their products are also organic and shade grown. “It’s the way to go, we think,” he says. “It gives consumers a positive alternative.”

    Fair trade also promotes sustainable agricultural practices which use minimal or no pesticides. On small, family-owned farms, cocoa plants are usually inter-cropped with other food-producing plants like maize and plantains which help feed the family and supplement their income.

    In contrast, Ivory Coast plantations utilize intensive farming techniques which boosted cocoa production by 95 percent in the 1980s. More and bigger plantations have caused Ivory Coast rainforest to be literally slashed from 12 million hectares in 1960 to 2.6 million hectares today, devastating the area’s biodiversity.

    Certified fair trade chocolate is the ethical choice for concerned consumers. La Siembra’s fair trade hot chocolate, milk chocolate and cocoa can be found on store shelves across Canada. They are available at Ten Thousand Villages and smaller food stores around Vancouver and at Thrifty Foods in the Victoria area. A list of more locations can be found at   As well, the Maritime co-operative Just Us! sells fair trade coffee and cocoa products by mail.

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