Chasing (Up) the (Chocolate) Bunnies

I posted this on the Modern Day Slavery blog as part 3 of my “Confessions of a Shopaholic” adventure.

This is a follow-up post looking at the deeper problem behind unethically sourced cocoa – we have to do more than just buy Fairtrade chocolate Easter bunnies.

Someone with whom I entered into conversation about this was Eddie Arthur who lived in the Ivory Coast, the country which was cited in this article, which refers to horrific instances of child slavery in the cocoa industry, for 12 years; 6 of those in a cocoa-producing village. His take on the issue was so interesting and challenging that I had to (with his permission) share it with you.

In his time in the Ivory Coast, Eddie did not see signs of the kinds of slavery that tend to be documented, and neither did anyone he knew. Whilst some cocoa is indeed produced through child and forced labour, it seems the issue is over-hyped, and the BBC correspondent based in the Ivory Coast has also expressed this opinion.

Though Eddie has never seen signs of child trafficking in the Ivorian cocoa industry, he has seen things that are just as concerning. They include:

– Children working very long hours and missing out on education due to working in the fields of their parents who work even longer hours, and who would rather their children get the opportunity to be in school.

– School teachers cancelling classes and bringing the children to work in their fields. Teachers are often not paid their salaries.

– The reason for this poverty is that cocoa and coffee growers are continually impoverished due the government agency buying the cocoa at far below the market rate.

– The Ivorian Government has been prevented from building a cocoa treatment plan by the EU, so that what is exported is cheap cocoa rather than a refined product which would fetch more money.

Eddie writes, “and so it goes on. Every day, cocoa farmers are subjected to grinding poverty across the country. It is the underlying injustices that are endemic to the situation which cause the poverty and which are also the causes and child trafficking that occurs.”

Thus, our solution cannot simply be to boycott companies found to buy from unethical sources. Indeed, in the case of the Ivory Coast, after having gone a horrific civil war, the cocoa and coffee trade has dried up and a boycott of these would prevent recovery and perpetuate the problem of poverty in the country. I believe that we need to take a step back and instead of focusing solely on slavery, focus on the poverty that makes people vulnerable to it. How can we address this in the context of the chocolate firms we buy from?

Cocoa growers have little contact with firms such as Nestle and Cadbury’s. A mediating Government agency buys the product first before selling it on to the big entreprises. It is in this process that the corruption takes the stage and this is what we need to ask Nestle and Cadbury’s, as well as the Government agencies themselves to address: we need to tell them that we do not want our chocolate (or other products) to be produced by children whose parents cannot afford to send them to school, by communities who are locked in poverty. We want Nestle, Cadbury’s, etc… to work with the EU and Government agencies to ensure policies are set in place for fair payment to be made to all parties and to invest in the communities they buy from – I certainly wouldn’t mind paying a higher price for my Easter bunny if I knew it meant that the right price was paid to the people who harvested the cocoa so that their children could be free to go to school in order to get an education and in doing so, to contribute to this recovery.

In essence, it is not enough to silently buy products displaying the Fairtrade label. Boycotting will not achieve our goal: this is something I will explore in later posts as there are many reasons for this; pertaining particularly to this issue however, boycotting does not communicate a whole message to the companies. We don’t only want products that are not directly encouraging slavery. We need to tell companies why we are not happy to buy their products that are produced by slaves AND let them know that we are behind them in their initiatives towards wider ethical policies and community investments which would prevent the poverty that makes people vulnerable to slavery.

We need to contact Nestle, Cadbury’s, Hershey’s
and our other chocolate product suppliers – as well the other companies we, as consumers, buy from. It is good to sign petitions that do make a difference, but we need to also write to these companies with more elaborate messages.

To finish, back to Eddie: “There is no smoke without fire, and I’m sure that some of the claims about child trafficking and slavery are accurate. However, the corruption and injustice goes much deeper and is much more widespread than people give it credit for.”

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