Tuesday, February 15, 2005

WHAT'S A CHOCOHOLIC TO DO?!?!?!?

Okay, I have thought myself to be pretty up on current events with respect to atrocities committed upon other people in this world and I act accordingly with respect to those things I purchase, wear, ask for at holiday gift giving time, etcetera...but I did not know about this. And it burns me to no end. Of course, this ran on Valentine’s Day in the LA Times, just as I had finished my third delicious truffle of chocolaty goodness, leaving me guilt ridden and threatening to go purge like I did in high school, but for different reasons.

Taking Child Slavery Out of Valentine's Day
By Tom Harkin and Eliot L. Engel
Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services and education. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) is a member of the House International

February 14, 2005

On Valentine's Day, there will be no chocolate gifts for young Aly Diabate. "I don't know what chocolate is," said Aly, who was forced into slavery at age 11 to harvest cocoa beans in Ivory Coast. Aly's ignorance of chocolate is forgivable. Like tens of thousands of other child slaves on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast, he subsists on a diet of corn paste and bananas.

Less forgivable is the fact that chocolate lovers in the West have been kept in the dark about these harsh realities. Few realize that most of the cocoa beans that go into Nestle, Mars and Hershey candy bars come from Ivory Coast, where thousands of enslaved boys — some as young as 9 — work in the most squalid, brutal conditions imaginable.

According to one report, the child slaves of Ivory Coast "are whipped, beaten and broken like horses to harvest the almond-sized beans that are made into chocolate treats for more fortunate children in Europe and the United States."

We have long been active in efforts to stop exploitive child labor, as well as trafficking in slaves. So when news reports on the abuse of children on cocoa farms first emerged in 2001, we were determined to stop it. We knew that if consumers learned about the brutal realities of cocoa production, their taste for chocolate would sour. Sales — and the Ivorian economy — would plummet. But that was not our goal. We wanted to stop child slavery, not chocolate production.

We viewed a legislative remedy not as a first resort but as a last resort. So, in good faith, we engaged the major chocolate companies in lengthy, intense negotiations. The result was the Harkin-Engel Protocol, signed in 2001.

The companies agreed to join with other stakeholders to produce an agreement for eliminating the worst forms of child and slave labor throughout the chain of chocolate production, and to do so expeditiously. They also agreed to implement an industrywide voluntary certification system to give a public accounting of labor practices in the cocoa-growing countries. This would enable consumers to make better-informed choices.

This kind of certification approach is already being used effectively to combat trafficking in "blood diamonds." In several diamond-rich African countries racked by civil war and human rights abuses, belligerents have funded their activities by mining and selling diamonds. The Clinton administration helped to create a country-of-origin certification system for diamonds. And President Bush signed a law prohibiting importation into the United States of any diamonds not controlled by this system.

There are an estimated 1.5 million small cocoa farms spread across four desperately poor countries in Africa, including Ivory Coast. The protocol established a public-private partnership enlisting government, industry, labor unions, nongovernmental organizations and consumer groups. The U.S. government's role is to ensure that whatever certification plan emerges from this process is credible and effective in eliminating abusive child- and slave-labor practices in the cocoa industry and ensuring the rehabilitation of the victims.

We have done our best to accommodate the chocolate companies. We preferred a two-year deadline for the creation of an industrywide certification regime, but agreed to four years. We all agreed that the regime was to be completed on July 1, followed by rigorous implementation.

Last month, however, the companies informed us that they would not meet the deadline. Instead, they planned to initiate a small pilot program in Ghana and, perhaps, in Ivory Coast. Although this is certainly a positive step, it falls woefully short of the robust action promised in the protocol.

The time for talk has passed. Children are suffering. Will the chocolate companies redouble their efforts and make good on their commitments? Or, as with blood diamonds, will legislation be necessary? Our preference is for the chocolate industry to take charge of its own destiny. But if corporate responsibility is lacking, government will have a responsibility to act.

This Valentine's Day, much of our chocolate will be bittersweet — tainted by the suffering of Aly Diabate and countless other cocoa slaves. Our hope is that, by next Valentine's Day, consumers will be able to purchase chocolate with a clear conscience.”...

Yup. There reads a fine reason to give up yet another vice. So, like the good little addict that I am, I did a little research to find out if there were GOOD chocolate "dealers" out there as opposed to the corporate giant variety that, huge as they are, can't manage to say NO to people using child slave labor after being given FOUR YEARS to make that happen. It turns out there are. There are Fair Trade Farms around the world where one can order things like coffee and chocolate; where slave labor is strictly prohibited and farms are inspected to ensure that Fair Trade standards are being met. Check it out and for information where to order chocolate without guilt – go to: FAIR TRADE CERTIFIED

Thank you.

9 Comments:

Blogger R said...

NOW I read this. My Godiva is threatening to come up. It was not on the list. UGH. Thank you for posting this. I'd rather be aware and protest with my dollars than eating something fresh off the backs of small enslaved children. That is tragic.

15 February, 2005 23:33  
Blogger Laura said...

Whatever am I going to do without my chocolate? This is just the reason I need to give up the stuff. The "it ruins my waistline" reason wasn't working....but the "it exploits helpless children while enriching evil heartless corporate executives" is much more motivating.

17 February, 2005 10:44  
Blogger ThomasMcCay said...

Dang! I'm sort of glad I didn't read this until after Valentines day as that would have complicated things. It's too late to chuck it up but for the future, we will find fair trade alternatives.

We switched to fair trade coffee last year.

Thanks for the useful if disturbing information.

17 February, 2005 20:12  
Blogger ~Betsy said...

Thank you for passing on this LA Times article. What a shameful practice, I'm surprised we haven't heard more about this, and sooner.

These enslaved, beaten children are near my sons' ages. It sickens me to think about it.

My kids are not happy about their M&Ms being tossed, but we will buy fair trade chocolate or none at all. The extra prices for fair trade items are worth it, if we can improve the life of one person. If we ALL bought fair trade products wherever possible, imagine the impact?

It is possible to change the status quo if we make some noise. Here's a good place to start:
www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/fairtrade

Thanks for enlightening us, M.

18 February, 2005 14:07  
Blogger Jet said...

I have a hard time fathoming how people can look into the eyes of their own children and then turn right around and exploit someone elses children.

Gah. The world disgusts me.

19 February, 2005 05:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I look into the faces of my own children, who are very close in age to the children being exploited on the cacao plantations, my heart weeps. If these litte Ivory Coast kids can work full-time, why can't American youngsters pull their own weight? I'm going to restrict the television viewing in our home until they start making themselves useful!

20 February, 2005 06:50  
Blogger PATCAM2005 said...

Children need to be children, if you really think they need to pull their own weight, maybe you should get a better career. Loathing your children is a good recipe for Columbine style activities. If you can't feed em' don't breed em'...

22 February, 2005 06:04  
Blogger ~Betsy said...

I agree, patcam. I'm sure Anonymous wishes to remain so because he or she is afraid to show their true identity after posting such crap. That's chicken shit mentality, and as such, is easily ignored by thinking minds.

22 February, 2005 15:32  
Blogger Jet said...

Re: Your comment on my blog, I can't help but believe that the same mindset is in operation here, whether it be child slave labor picking cocoa, or children dying as civilian war casualties. It's as if the lives of these children has no value, yet we kill over the rights of the unborn. I truly wish people felt the same passions to care for the poor as they do over legislating reproductive rights.

23 February, 2005 13:07  

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