The scary truth about chocolate: many cocoa farms worked by child slaves

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It’s Halloween – do you know where your chocolate comes from?

Most of the world’s chocolate is obtained using child slaves

Unless you are making a point to buy ethically obtained chocolate, chances are a child slave harvested the cocoa in your snack-sized treat.

“Over 75 per cent of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa,” said Lauren Ornelas, founder of Food Empowerment Project (FEP).

Like the textile and mining industries, cocoa farms in West Africa utilize child slave labour.

“Because these farmers aren’t being paid very much for their cocoa, they’ve started to deal the slave trade.”

Children are being sold or forced into slave labour

Children on these farms often come from poor families, and sometimes start working the cocoa trade to try and support them. Other times, children are sold, or even more horrifying, are kidnapped from small villages by traffickers who then sell them to farmers.

“They’re taken to these areas where they’re locked in at night,” said Ornelas. “If they try to escape they’re beaten or killed. They’re forced to cut cacao pods out of the trees.”

The children, anywhere from the ages of 7-16, are exposed to dangerous work conditions. To get the pods, they must climb a cacao tree and use a machete to cut the pods from the trees and to cut them open. This leaves them at risk for serious injuries, as a machete could easily sever a child’s limbs.

“When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh,” said a recently freed cocoa slave Drissa, quoted on the FEP website, pointing out the enjoyment people feel eating chocolate comes at the price of children’s suffering.

Cocoa farm slaves may be beaten or whipped by the farmers for trying to escape or not working hard or fast enough. They are deprived of education while working on these farms. They’re provided with the bare minimum of shelter and the cheapest food available.

Another former cocoa farm slave quoted on the website, Aly Diabate, said “The beatings were a part of my life. I had seen others who tried to escape. When they tried they were severely beaten.”

People are being encouraged to stop buying chocolate sourced in West Africa

“For this reason, we don’t encourage anyone to buy chocolate sourced from the Ivory Coast or Ghana [in West Africa],” said Ornelas, adding that, although there are steps to avoid child labour-obtained chocolate, it is hard to know where some chocolate is really coming from.

“There’s not really a certification system [for chocolate] at this point that we feel comfortable saying to go by,” said Lauren. “Customers need to start asking these corporations tough questions.”

While there is no way to guarantee if the chocolate you buy has been ethically obtained, buying chocolate that is fair trade certified is the safest bet. The FEP website has a list of chocolate they recommend, as well as brands to avoid. Many of the brands recommended can be found at Whole Foods, such as Endangered Species, Newman’s Own and Whole Foods Market 365.

“We don’t want people to shut off and say ‘there’s nothing we can do about it,’” said Ornelas.

Affording ethical Halloween candy is the biggest issue for many

One grocery shopper pointed out that buying fair trade can have its drawbacks.

“I like to buy fair trade stuff when I can, but it’s expensive,” said 23-year-old Madeleine Eleizalde.

“I love the idea but it sounds like it would be quadruple the cost of normal candy. I would be more likely to buy ethical chocolate for myself than for Halloween.”

Sydney Radclyffe, 45, thinks it is unlikely that Vancouver consumers will be making the effort this Halloween.

“I, along with everyone else in Vancouver, will be buying the cheapest candy Shoppers Drug Mart has to offer,” she said.

Reported by Carly Rhianna Smith

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