It’s Valentine’s Day and your beloved has treated you to all your heart’s desires – maybe a cheesy card declaring all his or her love, a romantic dinner for two or a big box of chocolates. But how would you feel if you knew that slaves as young as ten years old had risked their lives and sacrificed their childhood to make your favourite treat?

The Ivory Coast, a poor nation plagued by political instability and war, single-handedly produces about 40% of the world’s cocoa. The Ivorian agricultural sector depends largely on cocoa as their main source of income. Due to low cocoa prices around the world, farmers have turned to child labour and human trafficking in a desperate attempt to decrease their labour costs. According to investigations done by CNN, child slaves work up to 12 hours a day and receive no wages. Labour is intense and often dangerous – the labourers use machetes and pesticides on a daily bais. According to UNICEF, 15 000 children from Mali were working on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast. Mali’s Save the Children Fund director described “young children carrying 6 kg of cocoa sacks so heavy that they have wounds all over their shoulders.”

Research done by the International Cocoa Initiative shows that 47% of child labourers have participated in at least one hazardous farming activity, with only 23% using any protective measures.

The Harkin-Engel Protocol is an international agreement which was signed in 2001. Its goal is to end the use of child slavery and human trafficking in the production of cocoa. “We felt like the public ought to know about it and we ought to take some action to try stop it,” said Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. But 11 years later the problem still seemingly persists. Further investigations carried out by CNN show that 97% of cocoa farmers in West Africa have never been reached or contacted to monitor the progress of the protocol.

The Ivorian government still denies that children are being trafficked, despite investigations by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) verifying that approximately 200 000 children work as child labourers in the Ivory Coast. Sangafowa Coulibaly, the Ivorian Minister of Agriculture, blames the country’s troubled past. “Thirty years of political instability caused a lot of damage to our economy generally, and to the agricultural sector particularly, and more specifically to the cocoa industry.”

Despite these claims, investigations done by Tulane University (Louisiana, USA) proved that the Ivorian civil war of 2002 actually prevented human trafficking efforts, because Ivorian borders became too dangerous to cross. Tulane University also insists that children still work in cocoa production, under conditions that include no access to schools, injury and illness. It also calls the industry’s certification process into question, saying “it has no standards.”

International chocolate companies such as Nestlé, Cadbury and Hershey’s were some of the original singatures on the Harkin-Engel Protocol. But they have failed to reach their primary goal – to develop and implement a form of certification which proves that the cocoa they use is fairly traded without any forms of exploitation. This objective was set to be met in July 2005, but recieved a three year extension, which by 2012 still has not been met.

Accoring to CNN, in an article called “Chocolate’s bittersweet economy”, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association and the National Confectioners Association have insisted that millions of dollars have been spent on addressing the problems across West Africa. Accroding to the CNN investigations, “there is little evidence anyone is paying much attention.” Ali Lakiss, the Director-General of Saf-Cacao, the largest cocoa exporter in the Ivory Coast told CNN, “The farmers don’t get the best price. If the cocoa price is good, then kids go to school. No money, and kids work at home [on cocoa farms].”

Stop the Traffik, a campaign aimed at bringing an end to human trafficking, says the chocolate industry has made nearly one trillion dollars since the Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed. From this, only 0,0075% of the revenue generated has gone to improving the conditions in West Africa. Companies such as Nestlé, Hershey’s and Mars insist that progress is being made and have set a goal to reduce child slavery in the industry by 70% in 2020. But given that they have failed to deliver twice already, anti-child slavery activists remain sceptical. Campaigners maintain that the solution possibly lies in how the consumer responds to the information about the problem and their willingness to do something about it. Stop The Traffik recommends a number of active approaches which consumers can undertake. The easiest way to help is to buy chocolate that is labelled as “fairly traded” because these chocolate producers can trace their cocoa back to its source and prove that no child labour was used in the farming of the cocoa they use, unlike most chocolate producers, who can only trace fifth of their cocoa back to its original source.

The World Cocoa Foundation confirms that the demand for cocoa increases by 3% annually and has been doing so for the past 100 years, while 50 million people around the world depend on cocoa production as a means of living.

It’s Valentine’s Day this week, a day that celebrates love and generosity, but also a day on which chocolate prodcers expect a significant spike in chocolate sales. Maybe this year, as you eat the chocolate your dearly beloved gave you, think about where the cocoa in that bar came from.


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