Chocolate is a perfect gift for a lot of antioxidants, making it a comfortable meal and even a healthy meal. There are rumors that it may even act as an aphrodisiac. Not surprisingly, the chocolate industry makes billions of dollars every year.
However, chocolate also has a dark side.
As a cultural anthropologist who has spent years researching food and beverages in Europe and North America, I have come to understand the close relationship between culinary traditions and social inequality.
In a course I am teaching on food anthropology, chocolate is one of the many food products I have covered in the course as an indicator for understanding local and global social class relations, including human trafficking.
Exploitative labor, especially child labor, is one of the most troubling ways to deal with global chocolate inequality.
The history of chocolate
Chocolate can be traced to the Olmec civilization of Mesoamerica. Olmec was the first to convert the Keko tree to chocolate around 1750 BC, and Olmec used chocolate in religious ceremonies and as a medicine. Anthropologist Sophie D. by both Maya and Aztecs in the 15th century. Co and Michael D. It was also used as a co note.
However, the chocolate used in rituals is far from the chocolate we enjoy today. In fact, it was very bitter. The famous Spanish explorer Hernan Curtis is said to have brought cocoa back to Spain in the early 16th century; Sugar and honey were mixed there as drinks. It was until the 17th century that chocolate was eaten all over Europe, primarily among the aristocracy.
The invention of the cocoa press in the 19th century allowed manufacturers to combine sugar with greasy butter extracted from beans. The mixture is then molded and sold, thus increasing the popularity of chocolate among Europeans.
Sugarcane was cultivated by slave West Africans in the Caribbean and America as part of the Atlantic trade. Refined sugarcane reached England, where the working class adopted it as a quick source of energy and a means of satisfying hunger.
European goods then made their way to Africa in exchange for slaves, which anthropologist Sidney Mintz referred to as the “triangle of trade” in his 1985 book, Sweet and Power. It is the Caribbean sugar produced by slave West Africans in the 19th century that makes chocolate delicious. The connection of slavery does not end here.
Children as cheap slave labor
In the early 19th century, during a period marked by colonialism, the British introduced the cocoa tree to West Africa, where the growing conditions were ideal. Plants need warming and humid growing conditions that are common in the tropical forests of Ivory Coast and Ghana.
Cocoa farms are still operating there: mostly with small, and poor owners. Collection and processing of cocoa is labor-intensive and many of these poor farmers simply do not have the financial means or enough family labor to make cocoa productive. And so for economic development they are leaning towards children – often less than 5 years old but usually 10 to 12 years old. Beans contain pods that must be cut through holes, which makes the work quite dangerous, especially for children.
Lawyer Erica George noted that most children end up on cocoa farms through trafficking. Not everyone but many children come from Mali, especially from very poor rural villages. Journalists have seen many children come to traffickers and say they will get good wages on cocoa farms. They agree to work to help their family financially.
As journalist Mickey Mistrati points out in the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate”, traffickers take children to Ivory Coast or Ghana, where they are sold to farmers. The traffickers themselves, with the help of local militias. Children who end up on the farm often work 14 to 16 hours. They will even carry heavy sacks of beans and are expected to be beaten if they stumble or break.
It is difficult to get accurate statistics on the number of children who have worked on the Keko farm. The International Labor Organization estimates 1.56 million in Ivory Coast and Ghana alone
Given the huge financial network involved in the chocolate business, this is a dangerous job for journalists. Mistrati uses a hidden camera and bids farewell to himself and his companion as tourists. He mentions a French journalist who went missing while pursuing a story of childhood slavery.
In 2021, six Malian men filed a lawsuit against Nestl USA and Cargill, claiming that they had been trafficked from their village and forced to work on a cocoa farm. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Supreme Court with a majority ruling that chocolate companies cannot be sued in the United States for abuse that occurs elsewhere, including child slavery on African farms.
Large chocolate companies may not be directly involved in child trafficking, so they purchase cocoa beans from commercial suppliers. In fact, the eight largest chocolate companies signed a protocol in 2001 condemning child labor and child slavery. But it did not promise to stop the practice of the industry.
Then there are companies responsible for Fair Trade and UTZ labels who want to reassure consumers about fair labor practices in the chocolate sector, although this is not a final guarantee that children will not be more commonly exploited in the manufacturing process. It should also be noted that the US Department of Labor has also taken a strong stand against the exploitation of children on cocoa farms.
There is a need to build a strong argument against the abuse of labor, especially when it involves children and to that end we all carry some responsibility as consumers.
Robert C. Ulyn, Professor of Anthropology, Rochester Institute of Technology
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