In the shadows of a trade worth up to $80 billion per year lurks an industry notoriously shy of scrutiny. As we gorge upon our favourite luxurious treat, we don’t spare a thought for those involved in its production. A cloak of hideous secrecy tucks exploitation away, safe from ubiquitous discovery. The reality is harrowing: beneath the rich, luscious surface of our sweet delight resides a clandestine dystopia filled to the brim with the veiled stench of child labour.
As helpless mothers mourn for their kidnapped sons in Burkina Faso, we shove chocolate bar after chocolate bar down our throats. There is something poignant about the fact that those who make our chocolate never get to taste the product they slave so desperately over, not to mention that they aren’t even paid and undergo dangerous manual labour with machetes and blades.
It beggars belief that this injustice manages to skate precariously out of the media glare. But given that over 10 million inhabitants of Ghana and Ivory Coast depend on the trade, their governments make a quick buck from tax, and we get 60% of our chocolate from these two countries, who on earth is going to complain? It is an egregious, shameful wrong of our consumerist world.
My stomach feels palpably uneasy whenever I remind myself that I must have scoffed down countless chocolate indulgences born of slavery. It plays on my conscience that every time, I scoffed at the nature their origins. We should all feel guilty; we should feel collective visceral disgust. Our selfish luxury is provided by those working in poverty-stricken cocoa villages with no running water or sanitation or electricity.
Ouare Fatao Kwakou is twelve years old. Imagine being taken from your family, offloaded to traffickers by your uncle who disappears with a wad of cash. Imagine working every day (unpaid) from 6am to 4pm, not being allowed to attend school. Imagine tediously picking and scraping out cocoa beans one by one with perilous tools. If you would feel hopeless, worthless, and filled with despair, you’re a normal human being. The shame is that this one example is not simply an exception; it is the norm.
This isn’t Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The grim reality is carefully concealed in the manifold fabrics of colossal brands, senselessly perpetuated by our society. Child labour is rife and must be stopped before its ramifications damage future generations. Slavery is already being passed down from father to son, and the eternally cruel cycle will continue on and on and on… unless we make the transition.
The alternative is plain to see. The International Cocoa Initiative operates to eradicate the mistreatment of children in countries across the globe. They estimate that 246 million boys and girls are forced into labour that dispossesses them of a proper childhood, a proper education, and the ability to fulfill their potential. We have a duty to support such organisations to go some way towards stopping children’s lives being tossed away at the hands of traffickers and TNCs like empty wrappers in a stinking rubbish heap.
The Fairtrade symbol adorns one of every ten chocolate bars in the UK, and this number must rise. We have the power to change things, to make a difference, to look at business from a more humanitarian viewpoint. So much attention is taken to ensure maximum turnover. Disgracefully little care goes into the manner in which the product is harvested. And in a day and age where we pride ourselves on Human Rights and equality, it is simply not good enough. It violates our doctrines, it violates our moral code, and it violates our fellow human beings.
Several thousand children are taken from their beds each year. Several thousand boys and girls are deprived of an education. Several thousand mothers weep for sons and daughters they will never see again. Their tears drown in a society not prepared to listen. And we sit, in the comfort of our warm homes, stripping the wrapper off our next delicious treat, chomping on the sickly sweetness without a care in the world.