Valentine’s Day is a day we look forward to celebrating; it’s a day when we show our love for others by giving them boxes of chocolates.
But we don’t have to put our bodies and our health at risk to grow the cocoa that makes chocolate candy. And we don’t need to swing dangerous machetes or spray toxic pesticides to grow this cocoa.
There are a large number of young children, however, who do not have that choice. It is the children who are forced to work in the cocoa fields of West Africa.
Imagine waking up at 10 years old and instead of going to school, you go to work in the cocoa fields. For too many children in West Africa, this is a daily reality; their lives are spent sweltering in the sun for hours and carrying sacks of cocoa beans that weigh more than they do.
Two-thirds of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, where large companies buy harvested cocoa beans that are used to make candy bars, chocolate chips and other products. Local cocoa farmers earn 6.6% of the price of a candy bar, while manufacturers like Hershey’s earn around 35.2% and stores earn around 44.2%.
The huge profit gap exists because chocolate makers pay local farmers the bare minimum to produce cocoa beans – even though the companies know that such low payments prevent farmers from hiring adults to do the work for them. fair wages.
The end result is an inhumane system in which farmers rely on child labor to harvest cocoa beans – a system that is fueled by traffickers who transport children to cocoa growing regions across East Africa. Where is. In fact, children as young as 5 years old are regularly brought to Ivory Coast to watch chocolate production.
In 2001, Mars, Nestlé and Hershey – three of the world’s largest chocolate companies – pledged to eradicate child labor from their supply chains by 2005. The companies then extended their deadline to 2010 and insisted that they would be able to eradicate 70% of child labor by 2020. But in 2018 they acknowledged that they would not be able to achieve this target by 2020 – or even by 2025.
The fact is that little progress has been made in eliminating child labor in the chocolate manufacturing process.
In 2019, around 16,000 children were forced to work on cocoa plantations by people who were not their parents. But that number is probably much, much higher – many children are hesitant and afraid to disclose that they have been trafficked.
Here is the real toll that is inflicted on children working in cocoa plantations:
• 41% say they have experienced burnout.
• 34% say they have felt some form of pain.
• 25% say they have suffered from illness or discomfort.
• 12% say they needed medical attention.
During the 2018-2019 period, children aged 5 to 17 worked an average of seven to 14 hours a day harvesting cocoa. And during harvest season, 36% of children are exposed to sharp tools, 29% carry heavy loads on their backs and 24% are exposed to agricultural chemicals.
The cocoa industry snatches childhood away from these children and stifles their physical and mental development long before they enter adulthood.
So as Valentine’s Day approaches, let’s avoid buying chocolate produced to the detriment of the body and the lives of children. Instead, we only buy chocolate that bears the “Fair Trade” label, which certifies that the product has not been produced by child labor. By just taking this simple step, we can prevent ourselves from playing a role in outsourcing child slavery.
To learn more, you can watch a video developed by the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Law Project at Florida State University College of Law at https://youtu.be/pC0BtL6BwYE.
Show your love this Valentine’s Day with child labor free chocolate.
Olivia Ingram is a second-year law student at Florida State University College of Law in Tallahassee.