Do you know where your chocolate comes from?
Since 2001, the U.N., the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and other human rights groups have worked to address the rampant exploitation and slavery of workers, typically children of the Ivory Coast and Ghana, which produce about 60 percent of the world's chocolate. But despite nobel efforts, the groups' agreements have done little to improve conditions. About 3.6 million West African children work on cocoa farms, many of whom make very little to no pay while under horrific conditions. This dire situation has led some to refer to cocoa produced in these regions as "blood chocolate."
So why has nothing changed? Blame chocolate and agricultural companies like Mars and Cargill, who process 400,000 tons of cocoa each year and demand that prices stay low. Chocolate companies "have been able to control initiatives meant to eliminate forced, child and trafficked labor in West Africa’s cocoa industry." Companies purchase cocoa through small farmers at a very low cost, refusing to pay prices that comply with Fair Trade practices.
However, European Union members and several other countries of the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) (not including the United States) signed a new agreement last week at a United Nations conference. The agreement reestablishes countries' commitments to making the $10 billion abuse-ridden cocoa industry more sustainable and fair to workers, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). But this move will only help improve conditions so much. Things can't really get significantly better until the world's largest consumer of cocoa, the U.S., finally decides to take the cocoa high road.
The U.S. ambassador to Ghana recently announced that since January, the U.S. has been importing much more cocoa than ever thanks to two new processing facilities built by ADM and Cargill, one of the top five global processors of cocoa beans. U.S. cocoa imports are expected to increase, too, as American businesses are busting down the door asking for new contracts in the impoverished country. In the past year, there's been 100-to-200 percent more requests from Americans seeking to do business in Ghana, the second-largest producer of cocoa after the Ivory Coast.
This means small farmers in Ghana and the Ivory Coast will be pushed to produce more cocoa. Unless they are protected under Fair Trade contracts, rampant exploitation and slavery of workers will most likely continue.
Change.org has a petition that you can sign to Tell Big Chocolate CEOS You Want Fair Trade Cocoa!
Democracy Now! also has a video up on YouTube from their "Chocolate’s Bittersweet Economy": Cocoa Industry Accused of Greed, Neglect for Labor Practices in Ivory Coast story describing the chocolate industry in Western Africa: