A Not-So-Sweet Aftertaste
The Secret World of Coffee and Chocolate
Coffee and chocolate: two of the most wonderful words a college student – or anyone, for that matter – could possibly hear. The mere thought of these two treats can bring smiles to most faces. For many people, chocolate evokes memories of Valentine’s Day, Halloween trick-or-treating, and cold winter days spent inside with hot cocoa. Chocolate also releases serotonin and endorphins, considered “happy hormones,” because they play large roles in boosting your mood. And then, of course, there is coffee. Where would we be without coffee? Coffee is many students’ choice sidekick during all-nighters, finals weeks, and day-to-day busy schedules. Coffee provides much-needed excuses to get together with friends or to take a break from work.
But for all of the wonderful feelings many people get when pondering the delights of chocolate and coffee, a sinister side to these delicacies remains largely unknown. Ghana and the Ivory Coast are the world’s largest suppliers of cocoa. In fact, the Ivory Coast produces about 40% of the world’s supply of cocoa. Back in 2000, reports came in from BBC, Knight Ridder Newspapers, and other journalists that told horror stories of labor exploitation on cocoa farms. The findings of these journalists revealed that many cocoa farmers in these countries employ modern-day child labor and child slave labor to harvest the cocoa beans that are used throughout the world. There have been estimates that around 1.8 million children are exposed to child slave labor on cocoa farms in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The children that work on these farms, usually between the ages of 12 and 16, but sometimes as young as 7, are often brought to the farms under false pretenses. Some farmers recruit these children with promises of good jobs that will help them to provide for their families living in utter poverty and squalor. Other times, the children are sold by impoverished family members to the farmers. Still other children are kidnapped and smuggled into these counties to work on the farms as slaves. They are brought to the farms, and soon find themselves unable to leave. Sometimes they are told that they must buy their way out with the meager sums of money they are paid for their work – if they are paid at all. Farmers might also prevent the children from leaving simply by threatening them with beatings.
Boys and girls working on these cocoa farms are prevented from seeing their families or going to school. They often have no access to sanitation or clean water. Frequently, these child slaves must work with dangerous pesticides, and they use machetes to cut down the cocoa bean pods. The pods are then loaded into large bags that can weigh upwards of 100 pounds, which the boys or girls must drag across the farms. If the children do not complete this work fast enough, they are beaten. They then use the machetes again to crack the pods open and get the beans out. Once the beans are harvested, they are laid out to undergo fermentation and drying. After this, the cocoa beans are shipped to other countries, where they are mixed in with cocoa beans harvested from non-slave labor facilities. The same, unfortunately, goes for much of the world’s coffee beans. The beans produced in the Ivory Coast and in Central America (Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guinea, and more) use the same child slave labor practices to harvest the coffee beans.
Coffee companies such as Folger’s, Maxwell House, and Nescafe are reportedly among the companies that obtain their beans from sources that utilize child slave labor. Chocolate companies such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle reportedly purchase their cocoa beans from locations that utilize child slave labor in the production of the cocoa. With new laws that have been enacted, however, they are making small steps and setting goals to begin purchasing their beans from ethical, fair-trade sources. Even with these recent changes, much of the cocoa from these large companies still contains the stains of child slave labor.
As consumers in a far-removed, first-world setting, this presents a dilemma. What on earth can we do to help prevent these atrocities from happening? First and foremost, we can pray. We can pray that God would intervene in the governments of the countries in which this slavery occurs. We can pray that God would bring justice to those enslaved. We can also stop purchasing from companies that take advantage of slave labor. Perhaps consider purchasing fair trade-certified products. Companies that are certified fair trade, such as Starbucks, ensure that they source their ingredients from places that pay and treat their workers fairly, invest in the communities of the workers, and refuse to condone slavery. Although a bit more expensive, the price of fair trade products is worth the knowledge that the purchase you have made takes us one step closer to bringing an end to modern-day slavery.