Not buying chocolate lowers prices, hurts child laborers more

McClatchy NewspapersJune 24, 2001 

Some questions and answers about child slavery in Ivory Coast and its impact on the chocolate industry:

Q: So now I understand that chocolate products I buy may be made from cocoa beans harvested by child slaves in the African country of Ivory Coast. What can I do to stop something that's happening so far away?

A: An effective means of fighting slavery may be the pressure of public opinion. You can write to the companies that make the chocolate products you eat, demanding that they take steps to halt slavery and assure themselves and consumers that they will deal only with farmers who don't use slaves. You also can write to your members of Congress and to the White House.

Q: Why not a boycott? The last time I found out something I didn't like about a product, I just stopped buying it. A: Lots of experts say boycotting chocolate could make things worse for the boys working on cocoa farms. People from Anti-Slavery International and UNICEF and cocoa industry analysts say that if lots of people stop buying chocolate, it could drive down the price of cocoa. That means less money for everyone involved in cocoa production, especially the farmers. Farmers who use slaves already say it's because they don't make enough to pay the boys. If the farmers make even less money, more boys may work for nothing.

Q: How can I find out if my favorite brand uses cocoa from Ivory Coast?

A: Most chocolate manufacturers use some Ivory Coast cocoa because their particular chocolate recipe is a blend of beans from all over the world. Unless the label specifically says it uses only cocoa from some other country, there's a good chance your chocolate has Ivory Coast cocoa in it. If you want to be sure, you can contact the chocolate company. But many of them wouldn't tell us when we asked them the same question.

Q: Is there any way to know whether a chocolate made with Ivory Coast cocoa came from a farm with slave labor?

A: There's simply no way to tell. Cocoa beans picked by slaves are mixed in with those picked by paid workers. So the slave cocoa beans could be in any sack, in any shipment, and wind up in any chocolate bar or fudge brownie mix.

Q: Is anyone doing anything about this?

A: A few things are starting to happen. Many U.S. chocolate companies say they can do little on their own and are looking for answers from their trade group, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association. The group has acknowledged there is a problem, and will spend at least $1 million for a survey of who is working on Ivory Coast farms.

Q: What about the U.S. government? Is it doing anything?

A: In 1999, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order prohibiting federal agencies from buying products made using forced or indentured child labor, but cocoa and chocolate are not on the list of banned products. The Labor Department is spending $4.3 million on programs to eliminate child labor in West Africa. But it can't spend any money in Ivory Coast because the U.S. government banned direct help to that country in December 1999 after its democratically elected government was overthrown in a military coup.

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