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Exploitative Child Labor used for Cocoa Production?

I have to admit I spent a large portion of this past week as a news junkie and continuously flipped through the channels perusing the different political punditsÂ’ take on the Republican primaries. A non-political segment popped up that caught my attention and has forever changed my views on eating chocolate. Did you know that the chocolate we enjoy and are encouraged to eat in moderation for our health is sadly linked to child labor?
Opening up my favorite search engine, I began to search for information on the issue of chocolate and child slave labor. It's a concept that I had never considered. I guess I really didn't care where my chocolate came from and how it got to me. I just knew that I wanted it and sometimes, yes, even craved a good piece of chocolate. However, what I discovered was truly astonishing and life changing.
In the summer of 2001, a series of investigative reports revealed that young boys along Africa's West Coast were conned, tricked or sold into slavery to work in cocoa bean farms. At the time of this report, this area of the world provided approximately 43 percent of cocoa beans, the precursor to chocolate. In 2000, the British Broadcasting Company reported that hundreds of thousands of children were being sold by their parents or even stolen to work on the farms as slaves. Typically, these children range from 12 to 14 years old. Several reports indicate they are made to work in the fields 80 to 100 hours a week. They receive no money, are given a pittance amount of food and regular beatings are a way of life. Despite government efforts, this horrific problem continues today.
According to the many reports I came across online, the largest producers of chocolate in the United States are Hershey's and M&M Mars. These two companies, although concerned over the findings, use cocoa from the Ivory Coast in their products. Ben & Jerry's, Cadbury, Ltd, Godiva, Kraft and Nestle are just some of the companies that also appear to obtain cocoa beans from the west coast of Africa. These producers of some of the most tasty sweets in the world agreed to work with non-governmental organizations and the International Labor Organization. But have they been successful? It appears not.
Several CNN reporters recently made their way to the site of the controversy. They reported that despite the remoteness of the area, they found child slaves on the first day they made their way out to the cocoa farms. What I found incredibly disturbing was that in the article written by CNN reporters David McKenzie and Brent Swails, all of the farmers they spoke to said no one had told them to stop using children for slave labor. They described a child they found who was ten years old and had been a slave for three years. This child had been working the fields, doesn't go to school and receives no money for his hours of hard work since he was seven years old. That's the age of a second grader here in the States. What these reporters stressed was that these children were not locked up nor chained. They simply did know any other type of life. They didn't have a clue what freedom is.
In 2007, a UNICEF report indicated that there were approximately 200,000 children spending their lives as slaves. The number of children in slavery varies from report to report. All accounts that I came across in my search indicated that despite efforts and unbeknown to most of the world, children continued to be used as slaves to bring people chocolate. What happens to these children if the world demanded the cocoa farmers cease child slavery?
The question is what can we as a consumer do? The first step for me will be to refuse to purchase any chocolate made by companies that buy cocoa from farmers that use children as slaves. There is a vast amount of information online about this crisis. As for me, I am now on a mission to find chocolate that does not come from the hands of these abused children. The images of these young children, hot, exhausted and hungry will be forever ingrained upon my brain and my heart.