Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Blood Chocolates - Modern Slavery in the Cocoa Industry

Ten years ago yesterday, an agreement was signed that signified what was hoped to be the start of the international elimination of slavery in the chocolate making industry. The Harkin-Engel protocol laid out dates whereby steps should be taken to eradicate what has been described as one of the worst forms of child labour.

Many of the workers in the cocoa producing supply line in West Africa are children. Many of them are thought to have been trafficked against their will from Mali and other African nations and then forced to work in difficult conditions for no pay.

Leading chocolate makers in the West signed the protocol. And yet, a decade down the line, little, if anything has changed.

CNN have campaigned for awareness and forced pressure on the chocolate industry through their Freedom Project to end modern day slavery. Their reports yesterday were damning.

Chris Bayer from Tulane University spent five years in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, countries where the issue is at its most concentrated. He said: “Unfortunately, over the last ten years we have seen very little implementation of the actual commitments. Industry did not live up to the Harkin-Engel protocol. The issues are systemic.”

And Stop the Traffik, the global coalition that aims to bring an end to human trafficking, says that, although the chocolate industry has gained more than £600bn over the past decade, the combined investment from it into the improvement of working conditions in West Africa has been a paltry 0.075% of this.

The facts are difficult to establish, as there is no legal regulator that monitors the entire chocolate supply line and the western companies are not legally obliged to follow through on the promises they made in the Harkin-Engel protocol.

For instance, the International Cocoa Initiative, set up by the protocol to address the issue, appeared sanguine, stating that: “Governments of cocoa producing countries, members of the supply chain and the ICI itself are actively working to improve the livelihoods of cocoa growers.”

Whatever the facts, maybe it’s worth taking a bit of time while you’re chewing your Mars, your Nestle, your Cadbury, Hershey or Ferrero, to think about where it came from. As Chris Bayer said: “We have this disparity between incredible poverty and suffering and yet indulgence and decadence on the other hand.”

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